Harvard closes it’s doors, and opens it’s web

Educational revolution?

Harvard has announced that its education will be delivered ‘remotely’ in 2020/2021. The fees for the courses are unchanged at a fraction under $50k per student.

Clearly this has been initiated by the pandemic. Perhaps this is the catalyst that was needed to initiate an educational revolution that for some is well over-due.

This brings us to a fundamental question – can remote study be as effective as in-person tuition?

Harvard is closing it’s doors 2020-2021

In-person education

Rather incredibly practically every school system in the world follows a very similar structure. 

That is a teacher stands at the front of a physical classroom, and ‘teaches’ a group of typically 20-35 students in a ‘real’ environment. 

There has been much focus on classroom sizes. Whilst reports do conclude that small classrooms outperform larger classes sizes, if you dig into the detail this report explains that this is little to be gained until the classroom size is 18 or under. And for most educational systems that’s not economically viable.


One reason suggested that a smaller class room size can be more effective is because students can’t ‘get away with it’ as much in a small environment. So the benefit is perhaps a by-product of a smaller class room size, rather than an innate element.

If for example it were possible to keep all students engaged, or at least free from mis-behaving then the class room size can increase potentially without any performance loss.

If of course that ‘engagement’ is possible to achieve.

The problem with live education

There is a fundamental challenge with ‘live’ in-time education (synchronous delivery).

That is simply that students do not all learn at the same pace.

Mark might be great with numbers, but terrible with words. Mary might be the opposite. The result is in in traditional education that both students get bored and un-engaged on one topic, and bewildered and confused in the other. Both get the worst of both worlds.

In contrast personalised learning offers many benefits.

Personalised self-paced learning has many advantages

Personalised learning

Personalised learning (asynchronous delivery) where students progression is self-paced has shown to be massively beneficial.

The logic is that a student can spend more time on what they need to know, and less time on what they already know. The result is, that self-paced study can significantly out perform traditional synchronous live delivery.

So can remote learning be as effective as in-person learning?

I see no reason why not. That said it has its challenges. 

No doubt physical teaching has its challenges too, after thousands of years they are however better understood, and often the limitations are simply accepted. 

Perhaps we should simply accept they are fundamentally different, both has their pro’s and con’s. 

Does convenience always win?

History suggests remote will win

There are many examples where convenience has out performed quality.

15 years ago I would walk to my local ‘Blockbuster’s’ video rental shop (remember those anyone) and peruse the shelves to select my preferred video for the night. World cinema was my favourite aisle.

Then the internet came along and Blockbusters invested a small fortune in market research which confirmed as they had hoped, that their customers loved the physical experience of coming into the shop, as did I.

Guess what. A few small years later their business and indeed their industry had disappeared forever. 

Convenience won over experience quality.

Many said the same with their record collections (there is still much debate in hifi circles if CDs or other formats ever sounded better than records). They loved going to the shop, selecting the vinyl, then getting it home and blasting it out of their hifi.

Yet again convenience won over experience quality.

Cinema versus theatre. Live comedy versus TV shows. Netflix vs Cinema. Etc. Convenience appears to always be the winner.


Educating remotely is vastly more convenient. This is no a close thing. 

The ability to educate yourself online, versus potentially moving Country, perhaps to a Country where the language isn’t your native tongue, new cultures, finding accommodation, living with strangers, learning to cook for the first time, money to survive, these are not easy tasks.

Even shorter corporate training might involve flights, accommodation, huge travel times, loss of work production and more.

Traditional education is about as un-convenient as it’s possible to be.


Traditional education is two-dimensional.

It assumes that all students will progress on all topics at the same rates, even though we know this is not true. 

Lessons are linear. Like a book they start at the beginning, and they end at the end. Every student has the same journey.

I believe lessons in the future (and there’s already lot’s of evidence for this) will be more like a magazine. No two readers navigate through a magazine in exactly the same way. 

Study will be largely self-paced and self-directed. 

Bad experience

Chances are that you’ve had some pretty bad online training experiences of your own.

If you’re as old as I, then you’ll remember some pretty nasty quality educational video’s from your school days. 

Technology has improved vastly since then. Vastly!

However many of us haven’t seen it. One of the primary reasons is that the latest technology isn’t being widely used. 

Big International corporations use eTech to help staff training, but this a cost centre for them. As such they’re is a temptation to reduce expenditure and they prefer to use tried and tested technology rather than more recent innovations that may be more costly or perceived as risky. 

But it is there.

Dull no more

It would be wrong to assume that all online training has to be dull.

If you’ve ever seen a teenager in-front of their Playstation you will know that digital delivery can be totally engaging. 

These ‘games’ provide highly rewarding experiences. These games developers know that the investment in the quality of their product will have a direct influence on the commercial return they achieve. So unlike their corporate company counterpart they invest.

As a result budgets of console games are at least on a par with Hollywood movies, and the income generated can be significantly higher. Fortnight earned an impressive $1.8 Billion (with a B) in 2019!

Fun educational game distributed via Xbox and Playstation. Super fun to play.

I was recently introduced to JackBox. Fun educational games for kids, delivered via Playstation and Xbox. Even as an adult I loved it, and clearly it wasn’t aimed at me.

Highly interactive, highly engaging, filled with competitive game play. The result was a fun and rewarding experience, that I enjoyed (rather than endured).

Most computer games have a relatively short life span. Perhaps a couple of years of peak sales at most before sales plummet.

Just imagine if someone did invest massively in creating the best in the world education, for example maths lessons. 

That might be sellable for years, perhaps decades. If executed well, and marketed correctly, it could be a massive commercial success.


This is an over-hyped word. That said, there is no doubt that gaming techniques are filtering done from the gaming industry to the educational sector, and it’s helping.

Students are more engaged, earning badges, competing with colleagues and friends which is significantly improving the experience and as a consequence the performance of the training. 

Sop far eLearning is only scratching the surface of what’s possible here. More to come.

History of Remote Education


The death of the educational system has been talked of for decades, yet for the masses little has changed.

It took a world-wide pandemic to move the establishment. 

However with even Harvard the very epitome of ‘the establishment’ moving to remote delivery, it seems at least adult education will never be quite the same again.

About the author

Simon K Williams

Entrepreneur, Author and Business-Architect. Working at the inter-section of design, technology & marketing.