Case in point: Former General Electric Co. chief executive and business legend Jack Welch is now three years into running the Jack Welch Management Institute with his wife, Suzy. They spent $2 million for a 12% stake in Chancellor University System LLC in 2009, helping to convert the formerly bankrupt Myers University in Cleveland into an online college with an MBA program named after Jack. After investing more money into the venture over then next four years, the school now charges $30,960 for 12 courses that make up an Executive MBA.
Interviewer: What do you think of this trend in Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs? Where is it going?
Jack: We can give an MBA for $30,000 and you keep your job and are moving up in a company. Contrast that with leaving a job for two years and you lose $100,000 or whatever your salary is. You pay these exorbitant MBA costs for two years – $125,000. The economics are all going in the right direction for online education. It’s just as rigorous or more rigorous because you can’t just BS the classes. Everything is going in our direction. We can offer a rigorous MBA program while we make you a better leader. The theme of our school is we teach you on Tuesday and you put it into practice on Wednesday. In other MBA programs, you learn on Tuesday and, two years later, you put it to work.
My interpretation: Jack is not a learning scientist, he is a brilliant businessman. He is less interested in providing the highest rigor of education, and more interested in creating something that people feel is worth paying for. The more I get into this research, the more frequently I see online education advocates repeat this phrase, “just as effective or more effective than traditional classroom methods.” For this statement to mean anything for me, the researcher must first define how they evaluate “effective learning.” What measurements are they using? What assessments capture that data? What value is placed on what is going on? E.g. For some shady for-profit schools, “learning” means how well the experience accommodating the learners other demands on their time.
Interviewer: Any new perspectives on where online learning, digital learning and blended learning is headed?
Jack: There is a fascinating thing we are seeing. Our students, right now, want asynchronous learning. They don’t want synchronous learning. We thought it would be a good idea to have all students come in for a 3-day orientation before they start again. We got almost a 90% rejection (of that idea). They said the reason they are coming to our school is they want to learn on their own time. They have a family, jobs and lives. They don’t want to be going to meetings. Our gut feeling was to have them get together. They said, “What a lousy thing to do.” They have lives, children, obligations and bosses who want their work done. The reason they came to us is to get the skills but still be able to travel and go to meetings and things.
My interpretation: We don’t care about the quality of learning we provide. We are a business and we are just giving the consumer what they want (as far as no one calls us onto the carpet).