MIT and Harvard Offer Courses Online for Free

Could Massive Online Open Courses be the future of education?

By Chelsi Robichaud, Staff Writer

Education is finding new ways to adapt to technology changes, and mass open online courses (MOOCs) are an ever-growing trend. Universities are joining in on this technological revolution, and more classes are becoming available online for the public.

edX is one of these programs. As a product of MIT and Harvard, edX provides lectures viewable online from both universities. MIT has been offering courses for free in an open-based format since 1999, and published 2,150 courses in the year 2012. The first edX lecture was given by Anant Agarwal on circuits and electronics. Today he is the president of edX.

The Education Crisis: Are We Crying Wolf?

Creation of websites like edX may offer opportunities of learning for people who couldn’t afford to pay tuition. It offers an answer to the question: What if you could receive course credits without paying tuition? According to Agarwal, this is exactly what our education system needs.

“Our education system certainly needs work. I think the cost has spiralled out of control and student debt is at a trillion dollars. Clearly something is broken,” says Agarwal. “We can do one of two things: we can improve the quality dramatically and offer much more to the learners, or we can reduce the cost in the denominator.”

The idea that our education system is broken is not a new concept. Students around the world have been experiencing effects of this “brokenness” for a number of years.

In 1994, Malcom Tight, previously a professor at Warwick University, wrote: “while higher education has suffered both internal and external stresses, these are no more than might have been expected in an activity of its scale and complexity during a period of considerable economic, social and technological change”.

Tight reports that the problems of higher education are directed at “teaching standards, the relevance of research, the growth of the graduate schools, the decline of the liberal arts ‘great books’ curriculum, racism on campus, the influence of military and industrial funding, and the corrupting effects of college sports activities”. While all of these factors are still relevant today, it is undeniable that debt is central in this crisis—and perhaps indicates a shift in concerns over the past two decades.

One of the questions that continues to plague our current education system includes: Will students be able to continue paying high tuition fees, or will there be a change in the system?

According to Clay Shirky, an American writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies, a change is on the rise.

Quae Non Possunt Non Manent. Things That Can’t Last Don’t,” writes Shirky in a blog post on the topic. “The cost of attending college is rising above inflation every year, while the premium for doing so shrinks. This obviously can’t last, but no one on the inside has any clear idea about how to change the way our institutions work while leaving our benefits and privileges intact.”

The problem, according to Shirky, is that universities will lose their benefits if they lower costs. But would it be possible for classes to be held primarily online, and for free, without losing those perks? David Bell, a professor at Duke University, writes: “[Online courses] will be part of new hybrid instructional models taking better advantage of the possibilities offered by networked collaborative technologies.”

This view is not held by Bell alone. During his interview with the Economist, Agarwal similarly states: “I think what you’re going to see happen in the future is more of a mix.

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