Four Characteristics of Affordable and Accessible Education

At the Betts educational technology conference in London this week. Microsoft announced a new lineup of educational hardware and software. The message that unified their many announcements? Making education more affordable and accessible.

Ah, if only affordability and accessibility in education were as simple as cheaper, more powerful, and better hardware and software for students.

For that matter, if only providing free college for everyone in the U.S. were the simple solution to affordable and accessible education in the U.S.

As Alana Dunagan at the Christensen Institute points out:

…the key issue facing higher education is a problematic business model. Subsidizing access to a broken system doesn’t fix the system. Who should pay for education is an important policy question, but it can’t be used to cover up or avoid dealing with the issues of why college is so expensive in the first place.

As the leader of an organization devoted to affordable and accessible learning, I know just how difficult designing and creating affordable and accessible education really is. At the very least, truly affordable and accessible education must satisfy these requirements.

1. It must be easily accessible by everyone — To reach everyone, to have the widest impact possible, education must be easy to access. This doesn’t mean that the learning itself is easy, but rather that we must significantly lower the barrier to entry. It must be easy to find and simple to get started. Cheap is good, but if students can’t enroll in their first course and start their learning anytime, in under 30 minutes, it’s not easy enough to reach everyone we need to reach.

2. It must be widely accessible by everyone — Accessible education is about removing all barriers to learning. Affordability is irrelevant if education is packaged in ways that prevent significant segments of the population from accessing it. Whatever challenges a student faces — physical, financial, emotional, or familial — accessible learning solutions should be designed to give them equitable access.

3. It must be distributed and centrifugal — Accessible education is without geographic constraints It reaches out to students everywhere, where they are, rather than requiring them to go to a specific place of education.

4. It must be both affordable and valuable — It does no good to make something inexpensive if it has no real value. To help everyone in our country flourish, we must provide postsecondary education that is both affordable and high quality. We must create models that help everyone attain demonstrable mastery of the knowledge and skills they need for both personal and professional success.

Rob Reynolds, Ph.D.
Executive Director, TEL Library

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