Yesterday I began my first online course through EdX – Intro to Computer Science and Programming. EdX is a site affiliated with MIT, Harvard, and UC Berkeley (**go bears**), where courses from a variety of subjects are offered online, with lectures, discussion forums, problem sets, midterms, and a final – all for free. You even get a certificate of completion with the affiliated university’s seal of completion at the end.
This is one of many sites that offers courses taught by professors online, and at no cost. These sites have created an educational revolution. At this point anyone anywhere with an internet connection can learn anything. There are no longer any barriers of entry to obtaining knowledge. The certificates are recognized as legit, so one can even avoid the outrageous cost of higher education, but receive the “elite” status of learning through a reputable university.
I fully support the existence of these sites, and it is a giant leap for mankind.
My question is – how does this fit into the scope of the educational realm as a whole?
Will the university experience ever become obsolete?
How far down the rabbit hole can one really go? Can high school, middle school, and even elementary school be replaced with online learning?
I think the value of attending a lecture, in a classroom environment is invaluable. For many reasons – the entire experience one has of being in college, both socially an academically, where there is a radical expression of new ideas, ways of living, and worldviews cannot be replaced by an online site. The connection one can make with a professor – to have a mentor, advisor – cannot be replaced. But also, the feel of sitting in a lecture hall, with those outrageously tiny fold-out desks, the dim halogen lights flickering overhead, the passing of notes, the doodling in your notebook, the falling asleep and drooling all over your face and being terrified you farted really loudly in the midst of it all – this cannot be replaced.
However, I do think that online learning will enhance and enrich the lives of people who do not have an opportunity to attend college. And I do think that even when one completes college, one should not stop learning. So now one can work, be a parent, or do whatever happens post-college, and still be able take an occasional class in a subject of interest. Schedule your own schedule, do not be bound to a classroom and the aforementioned tiny desks!
This is a beautiful thing.
While I do think the certificate helps to legitimize the course, and can be used as a tangible way to advertise one’s skills, I do not think the certificate should be incentive in and of itself. Too many things in the world are judged on certificates, and while it is gratifying to achieve and have accomplishments, the certificates are empty. There is speculation that someday the courses will be available but the certificates will cost money. If this becomes a reality then hallelujah to the courses still being available online!
Another aspect of online learning that I hope has a positive effect on society is the honor system it relies on. Anyone can enroll in the course and cheat their way through it because there are no moderaters. But what’s the point? I think putting the trust in the people who are taking the course who suffer no consequences from doing poorly or not completing the course encourages ethical, moral, respectable behavior.
Lastly, I love the proactivity this encourages. There is no excuse for wanting to learn something and not. Make the time. Watch the lectures. Do the problem sets. The world is your oyster and you are a fisherman.
FYI Other sites to blow your mind:
Coursera – 33 affiliated universities, 198 courses offered, variety of topics, rolling start dates.
Khan Academy – Courses as well as videos on topics.
Udacity – 14 Courses.
Codecademy – Learn to code, a variety of languages, at your own pace.
AcademicEarth – Lectures on variety of topics.