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An Irish lecturer and online learning program manager is proposing a bold and unconventional solution to rising higher education costs: strengthen distance and work-based learning courses.

In an Irish Times report, Brian Mulligan of Ireland’s Centre for Online Learning at Institute of Technology based in Sligo says technology is essential in reducing education costs and keeping the population educated.

For example, at the world’s first non-profit, online university called University of the People, a student can get accredited for a degree in Computer Science for as little as $4,000. This is the complete cost for completing a four-year degree. College Board has pegged the average tuition and fees for school year 2016-2017 at $$33,480 in regular schools.

Education Technology Could Lower Costs

“In 20 years’ time, fewer school leavers will go to college. Far more study options will be available, many on the internet – and much cheaper than what is offered now. Distance learning and work-based learning, including apprenticeships, will become more available, reducing the total cost of education by allowing school leavers to live at home and ‘earn while they learn”.

Developing work-based learning will also give “drop outs” or college leavers a bigger opportunity to complete their degrees and apply their learning to the work they are currently doing. Mulligan added that while full time students appear to have more time and focus to study, individuals who work and learn at the same time are the ones who “learn more efficiently and are much better prepared for the world of work.”

Moreover, employers are now looking less and less at the degree a worker has finished and are taking more interest in the competencies and skills he possesses.

The author was asked to sit as one of the resource persons in a higher education panel which convened to discuss issues related to long-term funding of higher education. He, however maintains that information technology should have a significant impact in higher education.

“Distance learning and work-based learning, including apprenticeships, will in future become more available, reducing the total cost of education”

“Distance learning and work-based learning, including apprenticeships, will in future become more available, reducing the total cost of education. Students can be given access to online modules designed for distance learners, or many of the free online courses on the web. Online modules can be created cheaply, specifically to be shared by several campuses or colleges,” Mulligan explained.

Online courses can also benefit a greater number of students. Lecturers can make use of automated quizzes as well as rubric-based grading tools to deliver lessons to large classes and reduce their workload. The bold impact of implementing this idea is reducing the number of teachers and instructors in higher education institutions. This will inherently address the shortage of teachers in the US and other parts of the world.

Apart from that, more technologically advanced and sophisticated tools which make use of artificial intelligence. Adaptive systems can analyze patterns and student behavior in order to help online learning programs determine which modules work best for them. However, a significant number of students are opposed to this type of predictive software which could prematurely mark them as underperforming before they’ve had a chance to prove themselves.

In conclusion, Mulligan believes that technology, ingenuity, and courage are the bold solutions to the problem of improving higher education costs. Shelling out more funds may be obvious answer, but it is not the long-term and logical solution. Information technology will provide greater access, improve quality and reduce higher education costs not just in Ireland, but the rest of the globe.

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