There is an educational revolution taking place. Students are increasingly learning from new technologies, like Wikipedia, Khan Academy, podcasts, and iTunes U. And now, a consortium of 16 major universities have partnered to offer free massive open online courses, or MOOCs
As part of a seismic shift in online learning that is reshaping higher education, Coursera, a year-old company founded by two Stanford University computer scientists, will announce on Tuesday that a dozen major research universities are joining the venture. In the fall, Coursera will offer 100 or more free massive open online courses, or MOOCs, that are expected to draw millions of students and adult learners globally.
It’s not entirely clear which direction this is going (it’s described as an “experiment” by one professor), or how it will be monotized, or exactly what sort of accreditation it will award you. Nothing, really, is all too clear. But I am cautiously optimistic that this can, to a certain extent, democratize education.
But what will it mean for universities? If all this learning is free, does it mean we are merely paying for a piece of paper? (Side note: Freakonomics has an amusing podcast that takes this concept to the extreme, with stories of people who do merely pay for a piece of paper, literally, from the burgeoning counterfeit degree industry).
My hope is that these online technologies will force universities to innovate the classroom experience, transcending the one-size-fits all model of education. Salman Khan, in his thought-provoking TED talk on the Khan academy (below), documents some of these possibilities. By watching the lectures outside the classroom, argues Khan, the classroom can become a place where you can actually work with the teacher. Paradoxically, this means technology makes for a more humanized learning experience.
But wait, here I was thinking I’m writing a blog post about the cutting edge of education, and apparently some think they are already passing MOOCs:
At a time when free online courses are enticing students with the opportunity to learn from star professors at prestigious colleges, P2PU, as it’s known, is questioning whether instructors are needed at all.
That’s right, this online initiative is entirely peer-to-peer.
I have no idea what’s going on or where it’s taking us, so I’ll just stop here and not make any prognostications.
There is only one thing I can say for certain about all these technological innovations: the age of the cold, stiffling, and oppressive Mr. Gradgrind is over. Education is going in the direction of being dynamic, collaborative, exploratory, and away from:
“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!” -From the first page of Dickens’ Hard Times.