Quite the list of online education services have been opening their virtual doors lately. Coursera, EdX and Udacity chief among them. And they are backed by courseware authored by some of the most trusted educators and industry leaders around. MOOCs as they’ve come to be called—Massive Open Online Courses—currently offer hundreds of freely available courses on an awe inspiring list of topics.
One of the most well-known of such platforms, Coursera, just announced seventeen new partner universities offering courses including Brown, Columbia and Berklee College of Music.
And variety, wow. So much to learn! Check it out:
- From Brown, Arnold Weinstein’s The Fiction of Relationship will take you on a tour through literary history tackling the often difficult issue of how we relate—to places, people, objects and more—through the words of authors such as Melville and Kafka.
- Instead of reading those literary classics yourself, you could take a whack at teaching a computer to comprehend them with Michael Collins’s Natural Language Processing course from Columbia.
- Loudon Stearns from Berklee is going to be demonstrating the basics of creating your own music. If you’re drumming on every surface around you and singing in the shower then sign up for Introduction to Music Production so you can learn how to get that beat out of your head and into the ears of adoring fans.
As I write this there are now 195 courses available via Coursera alone. Many of them won’t go live for several months, but still an impressive accumulation considering the platform has only been online since April. At the moment Udacity has 14 courses available, mostly on the technical end of the spectrum. This includes the Artificial Intelligence course taught by Sebastian Thurn which eventually enrolled over 160,000 students.
EdX is just getting the ball rolling with seven courses recently started or starting within the next couple weeks. Being a partnership between two of the heaviest heavyweights around—MIT and Harvard—combined with an audacious goal of educating 1 billion people for free, they may well be the one to keep a close eye on.
With such courseware available it seems obvious, at least in my opinion, that much of the cost associated with obtaining an education is about to evaporate. What does that mean for two students entering the higher-education game as a freshman in 2012, one taking the “traditional” route and another opting for freely-available courseware?
Foremost in my mind, the MOOC student has a pretty good chance of “finishing first”. There are already courses available ranging from introductory level up through graduate material. I find it to be feasible that a student could easily accumulate an equivalent education in a shorter time than via a traditional 4-year university. If the explosion of available courseware continues, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see headlines showing up in 2015 along the lines of “First Online-Only Undergraduates Move On To Graduate Courseware!”
Another issue is debt load. I’ve been wary of the concept of financing an education for quite some time now. I’ve even gone as far as suggesting to friends that they find alternative methods to obtain their education—avoid loans at all costs! If the traditional track student finances an education, on average he or she is going to be over $20k in debt when the student graduates in 2016. Meanwhile, the MOOC student doesn’t even have to consider financing. Twenty-large is quite the head start, if you ask me.
But, what about acceptance from employers? Not to be glib, but I think that’s going to solve itself when businesses figure out they have access to a pool of workers who have self-motivated towards education relevant to their interests. A pool of workers who can work for a fraction of the salary of the student who can’t accept less pay because of a massive, unerasable debt load. Great for the employers, incredibly bad for the student who financed.
And then there’s that 1 billion number. EdX didn’t put a date on when they’d like to accomplish that, but take this into consideration. Back in 2010, about 6.7% of the world population had a college degree—or less than half a billion. There are sure to be unique outcomes when tripling the number of college educated people on the planet. I’m keen to see how demand is going to interact with such a change in supply, especially if it occurs as quickly as I suspect it will.
There is much missing from the equation, of course. MOOCs alone are not a complete substitute for a university education. Lab work, quality interaction with fellow students and faculty and many other aspects are often not replicated adequately with current systems. Coursera’s encouragement of using Meetup to find local study groups is intriguing. And if you’ve read any of my other posts, you may have determined I’m big on personal manufacturing. I share a dream with many others of seeing libraries re-envisioned as community makerspaces, which I see as a potential solution to the lab access component.
I’m always on the look out for ways people are overcoming the shortcomings of online education. If you know of anyone breaking ground on that front, please get in touch. I’d love to know more details.
So Go Learn Something, Already!
With so many courses available or on their way soon, there’s bound to be a course of interest for everyone. Go find something that tickles your fancy! I’ll even make it super easy so you’ve got no excuse, here are the links to the course lists:
Personally, I’m currently enrolled in two Coursera courses, one from EdX and one from Udacity—in addition to being on the waiting list for several other courses being offered in the future from all of the services. Those courses are:
And then I’ve got my eye on the above listed Berklee Intro to Music Production class as well as an Intro to Digital Sound Design course from Emory. So much to learn, so little time!
As I go through the courses I’ll be posting my thoughts on the experience so please check back if you’re interested in where this new online education model can lead.