Online Courses Are Shaking Up College Education


Online courses (left) contrast with in-class discussion (right).

A common image of the college classroom poses an unkempt professor lecturing ad infinitum before rows and rows of silent students who are feverishly taking notes. That scenario is rapidly fading, as free online college courses are becoming more popular.

The concept started about a year ago, among Stanford University professors. The first free online course offered was on artificial intelligence. It was an immediate hit—with about 160,000 people signed up. Other courses soon followed. Not long after, some of the professors formed their own online-only course services. (As one indication of the movement’s growth, if you search for “online college courses” you will get more than 2.6 million hits.) Now some of the world’s top universities are partnering with these operations to get in on the online course trend. How those universities will benefit, especially financially, remains unclear. What is clear is that online education is the wave of the future, and being left behind means getting left out.

The implications for online college courses are profound. Students who live far from a college campus have new options. People who work full-time or are raising children can fit coursework into their schedules. Students who face financial, health, social, or other hurdles would have opportunities not available before.

Going to college, though, isn’t just about attending classes and passing quizzes. There are intangible aspects to the college experience. Those include, but are not limited to, living away from home and being responsible for one’s actions, getting to know people from other places or circumstances, learning from the rapid give-and-take of classroom discussions, personal guidance from professors, and the cultural and social events available to students on campus. For students who are able to attend a regular college or university, these are still significant advantages.

Image credit: ©Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/© Hill Street Studios/Blend Images/Corbis

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  1. Badger says:

    well, well. still b going 2 college.

  2. Raven says: