By Jim Shimabukuro
Updated 27 July 2015
In everyone’s bucket list, under the heading “Education,” is “Attend an elite college.” Until recently, however, this item has remained unchecked for the vast majority. According to Jonathan Wai, “Only about 2% to 5% of all US undergraduates went to … elite schools.”1
Thanks to MOOCs, the economic and scholastic barriers are going down. And thanks to Natalie Morin,2 students in the U.S. and the world over don’t have to look far for elite offerings. Among the 31 in her list are:
Harvard (“Science and Cooking; Tangible Things: Discovering History Through Artworks, Artifacts, Scientific Specimens; Poetry in America: The Civil War and Its Aftermath”); MIT (“Introduction to Computer Science and Programming; Circuits and Electronics; Molecular Biology; User Innovation: A Path to Entrepreneurship; Introductory Physics: Classical Mechanics”); Princeton (“Computer Architecture; Effective Altruism; Imagining Other Earths; Paradoxes of War; Reinventing the Piano; Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technology”);
Yale (“America’s Unwritten Constitution; Capital Punishment: Race, Poverty, & Disadvantage; Introduction to Classical Music; Moral Foundations of Politics”); Stanford (“Planning for a Sustainable Future with Wind, Water and the Sun; Behind and Beyond Big Data; Careers in Media Technology; Environmental Risk and Resilience; Online Certificate Program in Novel Writing; Adventures in Writing”); Columbia (“The Civil War and Reconstruction 1850-1861; The Civil War and Reconstruction 1861-1865; The Civil War and Reconstruction 1865-1890”); University of Pennsylvania (“An Introduction to Corporate Finance; The Global Business of Sports; Modern & Contemporary American Poetry; Introduction to Key Constitutional Concepts and Supreme Court Cases”);
University of Chicago (“Asset Pricing; Internet Giants; Global Warming; Understanding the Brain; Critical Issues in Urban Education”); Dartmouth (“Introduction to Italian Opera; Introduction to Environmental Science; The Engineering Structures Around Us”); Cornell (“The Ethics of Eating; American Capitalism: A History; The Computing Technology: Inside Your Smartphone; Introduction to Global Hospitality Management”);
Johns Hopkins (“Psychological First Aid; Confronting Gender Based Violence: Global Lessons with Case Studies from India; Major Depression in the Population: A Public Health Approach”); Northwestern (“Teaching the Violin and Viola: Creating a Healthy Foundation; Career 911: Your Future Job in Medicine and Healthcare; Understanding Media by Understanding Google”); Berkeley (“The Science of Happiness; Biology for Voters; Electronic Interfaces: Bridging the Physical and Digital Worlds”);
Wellesley (“Shakespeare: On the Page and in Performance; Introduction to Global Sociology; Was Alexander Great? The Life, Leadership and Legacies of History’s Greatest Warrior; Introduction to Human Evolution”); Georgetown (“The Divine Comedy: Dante’s Journey to Freedom; Globalization’s Winners and Losers: Challenges for Developed and Developing Countries; Terrorism and Counterterrorism”).
MOOCs are free and completely online, they’re open to everyone, and the registration process is simple. You’re free to plug in when and where you want for as long as you want, and if you decide to complete the course, you could earn a certificate. In some cases, a certificate requires a small fee.
Developers are beginning to design a second generation of MOOCs, or MOOC2, that can be taken for credit toward college degrees. For example, see “edX-ASU Global Freshman Academy: Will It Work?” As these evolve, the distinction between online courses locked into traditional structures and MOOCs will gradually disappear.
A key obstacle to the growth of MOOC2 has been pricing. MOOCs that cost as much as traditional onground courses are simply out of reach for nontraditional students who make up the bulk of participants. However, a recent trend toward drastically lowering the cost of traditional courses in completely online degree programs is underway at Texas Tech and other universities. A critical element in this business model is the removal of out-of-state tuition, the final barrier to the expansion of online programs.
MOOCs and traditional online courses are on a collision path, and the impact will change the face of higher education forever, obliterating the class and geographic barriers that have limited access to elite colleges. The promise of online, from the very beginning, has always been access, and here, in the middle of 2015, the promise is gaining traction.
Addendum 7/27/15: Read Ray Rose’s comment re learners with disabilities and the accessibility challenges they pose for MOOCs and online courses. Also see his Access and Equity for All Learners in Blended and Online Education, INACOL, Oct. 2014.