There’s been a lot of debate over whether MOOCs are simply a passing craze or whether they’ll change higher education for good. While I won’t go so far as to say we’re looking at the end of class in the traditional sense, I think we’ve got some exciting stuff to look forward to.
With a deep interest in this industry, and having pretty much become an online learning junkie since grabbing my brick-and-mortar university degree in May, I’ve come to realize that MOOCs have a lot of potential—just maybe not in the way many had predicted.
As any commerce student will tell you after their first semester: competition is a great thing for consumers. It drives prices down and quality up. It’s why you can get a burger for a buck, and why cell phone rates in Canada suck.
Sure, there’s plenty of competing schools, but once you’ve chosen one, the train has pretty much left the station. You’ll have some great courses and some really bad ones. Some kickass professors and some snore-worthy ones. Powerless, you think, “oh man am I ever gonna give it to them in the post-course evaluation.” Meanwhile, your learning is suffering as you trudge along a low-quality course, unengaged and bored as hell.
Online course platforms have the potential to give the world top-tier courses because competition in the industry demands it. Take Udemy for example. I wanted to expand my technical skills, so I sought out an HTML/CSS course. I simply took one with rave reviews—and guess what—it was awesome. Quality products are rewarded too, which is great. It’s why a talented instructor like Brad Hussey (creator of the aforementioned course) has roughly 50,000 students and counting. If someone wants to take a piece of that pie and compete with Brad, they’d have to make a course that’s even better. Cool.
Online courses also give us an exciting new way to digest information. Some people prefer audio books over traditional ones because they learn better that way. In the coming years, online courses could become the next format option on Amazon. This would allow authors to deliver their content in a way that has all the benefits of visual, auditory, and social learning. Eric Ries, author of the Lean Startup, has already experimented with this for his book.
This medium also gives some pretty remarkable people a way to share their knowledge with the world, without having to land a publishing deal first. A course I’m taking right now is taught by Tommy Griffith, an SEO Project Manager at Airbnb. A chance to listen, ask questions, and learn SEO from one of the most exciting companies in the world right now? I’ll take it.
This is what makes me most excited about online learning: the potential it has to make learning more accessible to people all over the world. Platforms like Khan Academy have made it their mission to “…change education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.” While Udemy is a for-profit platform, the company has begun offering Social Innovation Grants of $2500 to “…provide organizations focused on social change with the tools they need to teach online and scale their impact.”
Then, of course, there’s the issue of hardware. Rumie is an example of a startup tackling this problem. Seeing the wealth of free knowledge available online today—and the large population of children who can’t access it—their mission is to supply the world’s underprivileged children with affordable devices that are pre-loaded with learning materials.
It might not save your ass from class, but you should be excited about what online learning has to offer. From helping recent grads like me pursue a career path, to educating underprivileged youth around the world, the MOOC revolution is shaking things up for the better.