Is higher education going the way of travel agents? This question arises from an Inside Higher Ed post by Joshua Kim, Dartmouth Director of Digital Learning Initiatives.
The Web has put lots of travel agents out of business.
The Web has made lots of things about traveling easier, and probably cheaper.
But in displacing all those travel agents we may have lost something important. We may have traded convenience and costs for quality.
The cautionary lesson for higher ed may be that we should always be weary of any technologies that replace people. We are a people driven business. A relationship drive enterprise. Relationships are things that technology does very poorly.
My guess is that the travel agents that are still thriving are the specialists. The professionals that can combine their knowledge and experience with available technologies to create new opportunities to find and plan great trips.
I see his point, although there are many areas where replacing people makes good sense.
While personal relationships are still valued among the few travel agencies catering to elite travel, for most of us Google has replaced the human touch in planning trips. In some ways this parallels the path that higher education has taken. The most selective colleges offer the highest level of personalized attention, ushering students through a learning experience that rewards them with impressive credentials at the end of four years. Most other schools provide less, ranging from personalized attention with questionable learning at a high price to online learning that is a scaled-down version of a typical classroom setting.
I believe that we will leverage technology to tackle challenges around costs, access,and quality.
Most people probably agree with Kim that technology has the potential to improve higher education, as it has improved many other aspects of modern life. But it seems that technology is often viewed as a blanket solution to many problems, including the very serious issue of skyrocketing costs. In taking this approach, colleges are trading costs for a much diminished level of quality in higher education.