Getting the Ivy League to Come to You

By Tamra Johnson
July 8, 2013 • comment(s)
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With the proliferation of internet access and mobile devices, there has been a lot of discussion and movement related to online education.  In September I attended the inauguration of the new MIT President Rafael Reif, and one of the sessions was about The Future of Education. Much of the discussion centered around what education takes place in and through a campus experience, versus what is possible in extending reach by moving education online.

Over 10 years ago, MIT created Open Course Ware. The same problem sets and lectures as are used at MIT have been put online for anyone to access for free, and there are now 2100 online courses available. The reach of this program has been pretty amazing – people from all around the world are furthering themselves and supplementing whatever education system they have with the same things MIT kids are learning.

More recently, MIT has partnered with Harvard and Berkeley to create edX, which is a non-profit enterprise for interactive study via the web. In addition to helping those who don’t attend these schools, this platform will be used for current students to interact and increase their learning in an online environment that supplements the classroom and lab work. There is on-going assessment and feedback for each student’s work, as well as communication paths between the students and professors.  

This type of educational platform and classes are being called a MOOCs for massive open online courses. In addition to the edX partnership, Stanford is offering a lot of material online, and is putting their material up on multiple sites and platforms.

They have 16 online courses available this fall, with the material being put on Classes2Go, Venture Lab for students to work in teams and Coursera. These online classes include video lectures, discussion forums, peer assessment, problem sets, quizzes and team projects.

In addition to universities providing online courses, there are individuals and startups that have also been changing the delivery and accessibility of education. An alumnus from MIT, Salman Khan, has created the Khan Academy. He always enjoyed math, and while working full time he started to tutor his cousin, who was having difficulty in math, over the computer. When others wanted the same help, he realized it would be more efficient to put up video courses on a public YouTube channel. His videos meant for his cousins and friends became quite popular, leading to his leaving his job and focusing on the Khan Academy full time. I’ve played around with some of the lessons on this site, and the breadth and variety of lessons, as well as the tracking and reward mechanisms, are pretty awesome.

Currently, university credits are not associated with any of these MOOCs, and I don’t think there is a standard acceptance of how to treat these types of classes when it comes to employment. I expect this will change in the next five to ten years, and I’m especially optimistic for those parts of the world where alternate sources of in-person education are not as prevalent.

I think online educational material can especially be powerful for increasing the education level of girls and students who learn differently, though there is still the challenge of infrastructure availability and computer/internet access. Additionally, though it takes discipline, these resources can be helpful for individuals who are trying to remain relevant professionally while they are out of the workforce.

What other online education resources have you come across that are great, and how do you see these impacting the future of education and work? 


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