There was a time when professors had to prepare materials for their students. Then it became clear that it would be a better system if textbooks were written by just a few of the most able: faculty members would be freed up and materials would be improved, as competition drove up textbook quality.As the cost of higher education goes up, the middle class disappears, and the tools available to teach with evolve, it seems clear the educational system in this country is heading towards, if not already at, a crossroads. There's not going to be anyone left that can afford to go to a state university only to get the sort of education those schools can give on the paltry funding cash-strapped states will have left once the burden of maintaining the social safety net has shifted down from the federal level.
Similarly, it makes sense for students to watch video of the clearest calculus teacher or the most lucid analyst of the Revolutionary War rather than having thousands of separate efforts. Professors will have more time for direct discussion with students — not to mention the cost savings — and material will be better presented. In a 2008 survey of first- and second-year medical students at Harvard, those who used accelerated video lectures reported being more focused and learning more material faster than when they attended lectures in person.
I suspect there's never been a better time to be an autodidact. Our kids had better want to learn, because just like corporations are doing away with pensions and workers need 401(k)s to save for retirement, the wealthy elites pushing the right wing agenda in this country are drooling at the idea of destroying public education.