Thirsting for Knowledge? Try a MOOC
May 24, 2012 Comment
One of the signs that technology is on the verge of changing higher education in profound ways is the recent rise of MOOCs. That stands for Massively Open Online Courses, and the most recent high-profile entrant into this burgeoning field is edX, a shared venture between Harvard University and MIT that will start offering classes in Fall 2012.
When the Harvard and MIT partnership was announced in early May, Steve Kolowich wrote about the rise of MOOCs for InsideHigherEd.com, taking a close look at both edX and Coursera, a free online classroom founded by two Stanford engineering professors.
Edx is a nonprofit venture (with Harvard and MIT each providing $30 million to fund the effort), while Coursera is a business venture founded by two Stanford engineering professors that has raised $16 million from investors. Coursera, which launched last fall, has thus far partnered with Stanford, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Berkeley to offer MOOCs.
Only time will tell which MOOC model will prove to be sustainable. But for now, what it means to you and me is the same: free worldwide access to courses taught by some of the best minds at some of the nation's top universities--the very same classes on-campus students pay hefty tuitions to take and put on their transcripts.
One big difference, of course, is that you won't get course credit toward a degree. But in most cases, you can earn a certificate for successfully completing a MOOC, and before long, employers and schools may start to place value on MOOCs. And if you are primarily seeking knowledge, why pay Ivy League tuition when you can take the same course for free?
Lots of people are already taking advantage of the opportunity. The MIT prototype course for edX, a class called Circuits and Electronics, drew 120,000 registrants, and a Stanford course in Machine Learning offered through Coursera attracted 104,000 registrants last fall - with 40,000 submitting assignments, 20,000 doing a substantial amount of the coursework, and 13,000 receiving a certificate of completion.
When top-tier schools like Harvard, MIT and Stanford start giving education away to anyone who wants it, something big is happening. The forces at work here are complicated and there are many unanswerable questions about what MOOCs will mean in the long run. But it's pretty clear that the educational technologies that power MOOCs are going to change what it means to "go to school."
While classrooms or campuses are not going away, the nature of a classroom is evolving. Sometimes they will be physical places, and sometimes they will be virtual. Some students will experience both at the same time, while others will alternate between different modes of learning at various times in their lives, depending on their needs.
More and more, educational technology is going to allow people to view education as part of an entrepreneurial approach to work and life--learning what they want when they want, getting the skills they need when they need them. MOOCs may not always be open to all and may not always be free, but for now, they are paving the way to a future where education is transformed by technology.
Have you taken a MOOC? If not, are you intrigued by the possibility? And how does this change the way you think about higher education?
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