Bill Gates Praises Online Education, Criticizes Textbooks

Aug 12, 2010 9 Comments by

Bill Gates gave online college education a big boost at the Techonomy (Technology + Economy) conference in Lake Tahoe last week, at the same time giving standard campus-based college education a big kick in the butt.  Gates, who was just this year awarded his degree from Harvard University more than 30 years after he dropped out, decried traditional “place-based” universities as too expensive and inefficient.

In his closing speech and interview, entitled, “How to Jumpstart What the Marketplace Can’t,” Gates reiterated his belief that technology is the solution to many of the woes that are currently besetting the American college and university system.  Regarding costs, Gates was empathetic to families who are trying to educate their children, but the typical $200,000 cost for a (private) college education was just too expensive for most families to afford. “Only technology can bring that down, not just to $20,000, but to $2,000,” said Gates.

Gates believes the future of post-secondary education lies on the web, and that “place-based activities” will be five times less important than it is today in merely five years.  Gates praised online education as a way for students to gain a superior education that will surpass the traditional college model, with “the best lectures in the world” available to students everywhere within a few short years.

Gates also said that “no single university” would be able to match what is going to be available to students on the web, and that going away to college may soon become a thing of the past.  In the future, an online education will be something that students who are striving to succeed will be motivated towards, rather than the staid and cumbersome educational system that is now in place.  “The self-motivated learner will be on the web,” said Gates, reiterating his belief that non-traditional educational modes may be the best for students as well as the marketplace.

Gates even weighed in on textbooks, disparaging college texts that burden students with unnecessary content and that are “giant, intimidating books,” as a result of being written by committee rather than with just the necessary content in mind.  Surely students must agree that accessing textbooks online would be much easier and more efficient than carrying around a six-pound textbook all day.

While Gates may have some measure of self-interest at heart as a self-made billionaire in the technology sector, he’s stepping down from Microsoft next year and focusing more on issues that concern The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  The Foundation is heavily vested in working to “double the number of low-income adults who earn post-secondary degrees or credentials by age 26,” in the U.S.  The foundation wants to see “New technology products and platforms that produce dramatic improvement,” and according to what Gates said at the Techonomy Conference, online education may be a big part of that achievement.

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9 Responses to “Bill Gates Praises Online Education, Criticizes Textbooks”

  1. Harry says:

    As a college student I also wanted to point out that most classes only cover a few chapters of the book, while we (the students) pay for the entire textbook!

  2. Don says:

    I have to agree with Gates on this one. I never was a huge fan of textbooks.

  3. Steve says:

    I find it very interesting what Bill Gates says about the future of post-secondary education being online. While I’m not sure how quickly the general public will be to adopt it, I see more and more students enrolling in online courses each day. What countries are adopting it the most?

  4. pookemon says:

    @Harry – you must be doing the wrong course then. In First Year Biol we were required to read a chapter every single week and finished the text book by the end of the year. That was a 700 page text book – and we had to read it all in our own time (it’s called study). Same for Chemistry, Physics and Maths. Then in 2nd year we did upto 8 different subjects – same deal.

  5. babylooneytunes says:

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  6. Penny Langford says:

    Not only do textbooks cost a lot, they have little resell value and most of the time you don’t even get through the whole thing! An eBook works much better and would probably be cheaper.

  7. Irene Ellison says:

    Technology is definitely bringing down costs, especially with textbooks and distance learning. I think one day education will become even more affordable.

  8. Political Correctness Leaving State School Kids Unprepared for Job Market | The Meck Deck says:

    [...] speaking of college, Bill Gates is on to something. The days of middle class families paying $200,000 to send their kid to a brick and mortar college [...]

  9. Education Connection says:

    Hi Steve. Many countries in Europe and the Middle East have begun to incorporate more online education into their curriculum.

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