Kling on technology and teaching at the “Second Tier of Education”

December 16th, 2011

Basically, technology in education will only help those in the top tier who are already motivated to learn.

Once you get away from the top n colleges, where n is probably between 100 and 200, you get into a tier where the natural aptitude for classroom learning is only middling. Can we lump everything below the top n into what one might call the second tier of higher education? Probably the classification should be more granular, but let me stick to just two tiers.

The primary motivation of students in the second tier is to get the credential: the teaching degree, the allied health degree, or what have you. The challenge for both students and professors is to get the students to complete their course of study. I would think that this would tend toward a competition to get away with as little rigor as possible in the process. To the extent that the credential confers automatic improvements in pay (as in many government jobs), the rigor should be driven close to zero. Only to the extent that employers demand actual substantive learning will any rigor be supported.

Getting back to Matt’s second question, I do not think that technology will remove any important barriers to an 18 year old. I am skeptical that it will achieve the lofty goals that we have for higher education–making American workers more competitive in the global market place, blah, blah, blah. If anything, I think that technology ultimately will add to the advantages of those who already have a high aptitude for learning.

I think that higher education is one of those things that we are very enchanted about, like democracy and health insurance and regulation. A more realistic appraisal might be disenchanting.