Long live the classroom

Reports of the education sector's imminent demise appear to have been a little exaggerated.

Over the last decade, the internet has disrupted the media, music and retail industries in ways no one could have imagined. And now with the rise of massive open online courses – free courses in just about everything – offered by the world's most prestigious universities, many people are wondering if TAFE, uni and private colleges in Australia will start going out of business in the way that newspapers, record companies and book stores have been. What does this change really mean for the education sector?

Human beings are social animals

Yes, you could conceivably learn how an engine works by doing a series of online tutorials, but most people still find it more effective and enjoyable to learn from a human being surrounded by fellow students. For decades, we've been able to learn skills such as playing a musical instrument or speaking a foreign language from books, CDs, videos and DVDs – and plenty have – but the large majority of us still prefer learning from and alongside other people.

There's more to an education than technical knowledge

While online resources are good for learning some things, which is exactly why educational institutions have enthusiastically embraced the opportunities thrown up by the internet, there are many skills you simply can't develop sitting in front of a laptop. For example, if you want to acquire vital workplace skills such as working effectively as part of a group or verbally communicating your ideas, you need to be interacting face to face with others.

Someone still needs to hand out the credentials

How comfortable would you be having your brakes fixed by someone who hasn't had to pass any exams? How about being operated on by someone who tells you, "No, I never went to medical school but, relax, I've watched a lot of YouTube videos of surgical procedures"? For society to function, it's necessary for someone to provide a way for the general public to determine whether those they are dealing with are properly trained and competent. Educational institutions, through the awarding of degrees, diplomas and certificates, will continue to play a major role in doing that for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately for both teachers and students, reports of the education sector's imminent demise appear to have been a little exaggerated – there will be bricks-and-mortar educational institutions for a long time to come.