So-called “distance learning” has been available to disciplined students for generations, with instruction and degrees available by mail, television, even radio. The Internet, though, opened yawning opportunities for new forms of education that could be of a high quality yet much more accessible and lower in cost than traditional classroom education. The year 2012 was when Internet-based instruction developed some critical mass, as so-called MOOCs (massive open online courses) expanded beyond the confines of major universities and began to become widely available from specialized entities. Some of the leading ventures in online learning, like Coursera and Udacity, aspire to be profitmaking ventures; others like University of the People, EdX, and the Khan Academy are set up as not-for-profits. Donations from the Andrew Mellon, Hewlett, Gates, and MacArthur foundations, as well as donations from the philanthropic arms of companies like Google, helped launch entities of both sorts.
While several MOOCs quickly garnered millions of students, very low course-completion rates so far suggest that limited numbers of students will have the discipline and perseverance to work their way through free courses on their own. But for those who do (including many students in the developing world), online learning makes very high-level education accessible at little or no cost, without geographic barriers.
- Philanthropy magazine reporting on University of the People, philanthropyroundtable.org/
- Sample EdX offerings in computer science, edx.org/course-list/allschools/computer-science/allcourses
- New York Times story on accreditation of University of the People, nytimes.com/2014/02/14/education/free-online-university-receives-accreditation-in-time-for-graduating-class-of-7.html?_r=0