Saylor.org Free Education: 4 Suggestions

The mission of Saylor.org (which you can read in full here) is admirably ambitious:

August 24, 2011

The mission of Saylor.org (which you can read in full here) is admirably ambitious:

"We believe that everyone, everywhere should have access to a college education. This website will serve as a zero-cost alternative to those that lack the resources to attend traditional brick-and-mortar institutions and, if they are willing, a complement to mainstream education providers. We expect free, asynchronous, web-based learning opportunities to motivate people to pursue personal growth and career ambitions as well as lead to institutional change amongst education providers everywhere."

Saylor.org has completed 183 courses out of a planned 241. Future plans include adding more faculty video and multimedia content. The learning model is self-paced. All content in the courses is open source and publicly available, and the courses themselves are licensed under Creative Commons. Saylor.org has entered into a partnership with P2PU to deliver courses using the framework and tools that the foundation has developed.

The foundation has an endowment of about $14 million, which kicks off about $2 million a year in income. The sole trustee of the foundation, which was established in 1999, is Michael J. Saylor - president of the business intelligence company Microstrategy.

Please go and check out the site, and spend some time in the courses. I have done this, and also had a quick phone call with program director, Alana Harrington, and some of her team.

4 Ideas for Saylor.org:

1. Move to a Cohort Model:

A cohort model might not be possible for all courses. But perhaps figure out the best of the courses, and utilize some of the endowment funding to hire a qualified instructor to lead a course. Keep the number of students down. Do this as an experiment. The educational process is very difficult to duplicate outside of a cohort model, as most of the learning in a good class comes from peer interaction, debate, and collaboration. Recognize that there is a place for both self-paced and cohort based learning, and invest and experiment with both.

2. Figure Out How to Provide College Credit and Eventually Degrees:

I really like how the courses are designed, aggregating the available open learning content into a course structure. This is a big improvement over many open learning destinations, which offer content devoid of learning outcomes and assessments.

Still, I think the scarcity in the higher ed market is not educational opportunities, but opportunities for affordable college credit and eventually post-secondary degrees. Can Saylor partner with an an accredited institution to attach credit to the courses? This would be done with the experimental cohort led classes.

3. Partner with the For-Profit Sector:

Saylor.org could be a great showcase for a range of learning platforms. Ed tech companies not only have platforms and products that can be used, but deep expertise in content development, delivery, and user experience. Recognizing that the for-profit sector has an important (really an essential) part in improving higher ed would open the door to including for-profits in Saylor's mission.

4. Be Proactively Transparent About Foundation Processes:

I'd like to see Saylor.org's team writing (daily) about the process of building and delivering a free online course platform. As a non-profit, Saylor has the advantage of not worrying about retaining a business or competitive advantage. Share everything. Be willing to talk about ideas or projects that went wrong, as well as those that went well. Try to engage a community in a discussion about priorities and investments. Realize that the conversation is perhaps as important as the product.

What ideas do you have for Saylor.org?


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