Bill Gates on Online Versus Traditional Schools

At a Techonomy conference in San Fransisco, Bill Gates was asked by an audience member whether he thinks that online schools may become more prominent than traditional schools. In his response, he outlined the following points:

  1. An important reality of K-12 education is that part of its function is to care for the students so that parents can go about their workdays. For this reason online education will never supercede traditional schooling for the K-12 segment.
  2. In K-12 districts which struggle to meet academic goals, highly immersive education practices (boarding schools) could be successful.
  3. In contrast, for college students there are already very effective online courses. “The self-motivated learner will be on the web.”
  4. Especially given the increasing costs of higher education, only technology will provide the answer for our goal of providing every student with the level of education that they want to pursue.

This video was uploaded to YouTube by David Spark.


Will online education ever supercede classroom education?

You have to look at different phases, where K-12 is partly about babysitting the kids so the parents can do other things. So, having the kids go to a common place for K-12 – I don’t predict some radical change in that.

You know, homeschooling is about 3 or 4 percent and it keeps getting better. In fact, they are in the cutting edge of using some of these tools and getting feedback for those. But actually some of the best charter schools are these boarding schools, where you completely immerse the kid in the learning ethic.

In KIPP [Knowledge Is Power Program] – all high performance charter schools which have come at it in different ways – they are all long school days. KIPP, which is kind of an exemplar – very long school day, you come in on every Saturday, you come in three weeks in the summer – you create a whole immersion environment.

So if you want to take inner city 5th grade kids and get them to think “learning is what I’m about, it’s fun, I do it with other kids,” you need to have at least 80% of their waking hours devoted to your thing or else you loose. So these charter schools do that.

That is very different from college courses. If all of you want to learn about global warming, go to Teach12, there’s a 6-hour course that they have. It really goes through the basic science and how it works and what the kids should know in a very effective way.

The self-motivated learner will be on the web and there will be far less place-based lessons. In fact, you can get feedback after the discussion; then you have video, you have bulletin boards, and you have all sorts of things that a college (except for the parties) needs to be less place-based.

After all, what we are trying to do? We’re trying to take the education that today, the tuition is say, $50,000 a year, so over four years, that’s a $200,000 education. That is increasingly hard to get because there’s less money for it; the capacity is not there. We are trying to provide it to every kid who wants it, and only technology can bring that down not just to $20,000 but to $2,000.

So yes, place-based activity in that college thing will be five times less important than it is today. When you take K-9 I don’t see a change, the way we do the hybrid of bringing technology into the learning environment so half the class is doing Khan Academy and half the class is doing the discussion groups. We’re funding a lot of people to try that. The room for innovation – thank God for charters, there’s no room for innovation in the standard system – we’re getting some experimentation, but there should be about 20 times as much as there is.

Written by Valerie Schirmer

Valerie Schirmer on Google+