Harvard and MIT Partner to Create Free Online Courses: The Great Education Equalizer?

This week, Harvard University and MIT announced plans to offer free, online courses. You can find articles about this project at the New York Times, Huffington Post, The Boston Herald and Yahoo News, among others.  They even plan to offer a certificate of completion for some of the courses.

This is a step in the right direction toward making education more affordable and available to people from a wider range of backgrounds. There are a number of students who have the smarts to get into a prestigious ivy-league school, but not the financial resources to enable them to attend for four years.

It is especially interesting to see that Universities are beginning to compete in this new arena. It will be interesting to watch the evolution of this model.

But, several questions remain for me: Will potential employers and graduate schools recognize these courses as a valuable addition to an applicant’s credentials? Will people who take these courses be seen as self-starters who take the initiative to further their education outside of the constraints of the traditional university system? Do you see this as a move toward making education generally more affordable and accessible?

And most importantly, do you think you will take advantage of this unique opportunity? What courses would you like to see offered?

Personally, I am excited to check this out and take advantage of this new resource! What do you think? Thank you for reading!


Filed under Career Planning, Education, Income inequality, Youth Leadership

17 responses to “Harvard and MIT Partner to Create Free Online Courses: The Great Education Equalizer?

  1. It’s an interesting experiment and this is certainly the way things are headed these days — on-line learning. But it should hardly be called :”education” which depends on the personal interaction between and among students and teachers.

    • Excellent point. I wonder if these courses will try to simulate that experience or not? If not, a hhuge piece of the learning experience will definitely be missing. I posted earlier about Michael Sandel. In watching his classes, it is so clear how much is learned by observing the teacher interacting with his students, and even more to be learned byy being the student who is willing to be challenged. Thanks so much for your comment!

      • I taught at the college level for 41 years and at the primary level for a year. I have lectured with interactive TV and it works to a degree. But there is no substitute for sitting around a table with a dozen students who have read the same book and are eager to get into it! Technology simply cannot replace the Socratic method! Not if we are talking about real learning.

    • Ha! You give me more credit than you should! Thank you for the confidence! It sounds like you would be much more competent at doing that. I just tthink something has to give to bend the cost curve to enable more equal access to the fundamental things that set a child up for success.

    • That makes sense. I played lacrosse for a division 1 school, but we had to shovel our own field when it snowed. You can imagine the football team didn’t have to do the same.

  2. Your thoughtful comments make me wonder if a hybrid model, with in class discussions and activites that supplement online work is a promising alternative to reduce the costs of an education. Tthe costs have gotten so far out of control that I saw this as a useful tool to ensuure more access, but you make.a very good point. So how do you think low and middle income kids can gain more access to a quality education?

    • The main topics could be covered by way of a computer. But there should be tutors who lead class discussions about the material. Your idea of a hybrid is most interesting. Perhaps you could work up a model?

  3. Another thoughtful opinion piece from David Brooks from the New York Times on this issue: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/04/opinion/brooks-the-campus-tsunami.html?_r=1 It looks like he shares your concerns, Hugh.

    • Yes. He must be right, because he thinks as I do! But as he suggests there are real problems once we get past the simple act of passing along information. That’s where education really starts, and I don’t see how computers can surmount that obstacle: they cannot really interact with students. Education is about thinking, not becoming well informed, though this may be a first step.

  4. I like the idea of free online courses. Some people learn very well on their own. There are different learning styles. I know someone who built a beautifully crafted house after learning how to from books. I also see value in a classroom setting, although incorporating group discussion, time to read alone and movement gives more dimension to learning.

  5. It does seem like a step in the right direction, although I think Hugh’s comments on this post about the importance of personal interaction are very well taken. It will be very interesting to see how this evolves. Anything to bring down costs of education!

    • I agree with you about the high cost of education — something like an 800% increase in tuition since the late 80s. Let’s hope that internet teaching is not seen as a substitute for classroom instruction and seminars, but as a supplement. There should be a way of combining the two and having teaching assistants conduct discussions of material presented by computer (cheaper than high-priced professors). It’s true that there are different learning styles, but the data suggest that most people learn more when they are actively involved in the process. If real learning is to take place, there needs to be personal interaction along the line somewhere.

  6. I just want to add a footnote to the above comment. Colleges could dramatically reduce tuition costs if they would (a) cut administrative and “support staff” which have risen at two to three the times the rise in instructional staff of late, and (b) reduce, or eliminate, costly athletics programs which add little or nothing to the students’ educational experience, especially at the Division I level. I have written about this and it is posted on my blog under the heading “The Tail That Wags The Dog.”

    • Hi Hugh! I am sure that a lot could be done to cut back costs. And state budgets are not helping, with policy makers being forced to look for savings, frequently at the expense of higher education. But I played sports in college and feel that being part of a team helped make me who I am today. But I am sure there are savings to be found there as well.

      • I coached women’s tennis for nearly fifteen years and have the highest regard for college athletics — properly pursued! It’s when they get out of hand that problems arise. And that’s what has happened in the “revenue” sports at the Division I level, where most of my concerns lie.

  7. Pingback: What is the Value of Face Time with a Professor? | newsofthetimes

  8. Pingback: She Works Hard for the Money: Should Universities Do More to Prepare Students for the Workplace? | newsofthetimes

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