No one knows exactly where that restructuring might end up. Lectures becoming a rarity, for example? Vast numbers of students getting their degrees entirely online? But the revolution has already begun, says Stevens. Major universities such as Stanford are taking the lead, “trying to integrate and embed digital learning into the fabric of the entire university” — and trying to master the new technology before it masters them.
Virtually everyone participating in this upheaval agrees on one thing. Colleges and universities will change — perhaps dramatically — but they will not disappear. “No one says that all education has to be online,” says Thrun. “Sometimes, a classroom is better.” Especially in communal endeavors such as science, “education is more than just knowledge”, says Dede. “It's abilities like leadership and collaboration, and traits like tenacity”, all of which are best learned face to face.
An unspoken irony weaves through almost every discussion about MOOCs: thanks to innovations such as flipping, online technology's most profound effect on education may be to make human interaction more important than ever. As Krakauer puts it, “what's absolutely clear is that the very large lecture hall can be completely replaced: there's no value added over watching it at home on an iPad screen with a cup of tea. But there is also no substitute for a conversation.”