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Bill Gates: MOOCs Could Benefit Community Colleges



By Dan Shewan
Posted October 07, 2013 10:00 AM

Bill Gates: MOOCs could benefit community colleges.
Bill Gates: MOOCs could benefit community colleges.

According to Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, massive open online courses, or MOOCs, could help community colleges become more efficient, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Flipping Education on its Head

Speaking at the Association of Community College Trustees' leadership meeting in Seattle, Gates said that MOOCs could be of particular value to two-year schools struggling to successfully integrate technology into their associate's degree programs. Gates added that "flipped" classrooms have the potential to help struggling students succeed.

Gates also acknowledged the fact that many community colleges have been reluctant to embrace MOOCs, partly due to lecturers' unfamiliarity with how to effectively leverage the technology. However, he said that the benefits of using large-scale online education programs with individualized instruction could ultimately improve student learning outcomes.

"I'd be the first to say this is a period of experimentation, but we'll learn much faster if people jump in and engage," said Gates, as quoted by The Chronicle. "Of course it's quite controversial, what software can take over, but once you get a great pool of lectures out there that incorporate problem solving and drill practice, this frees up time."

The Road Ahead

Of course, MOOCs and online education in general are certainly nothing new. Many of the country's best colleges and universities have offered online instruction for years. However, the advent of MOOCs is unprecedented in higher education in terms of the potential impact these courses could have on the way students approach learning.

According to The New York Times, 29 schools across the country are participating in the EdX initiative, a collaborative project between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition, many of the nation's top schools are offering their own online courses free of charge to students around the world, including Stanford University.

Although adoption of MOOCs is a touchy subject with some academic leaders, particularly those at two-year schools, the possibilities these platforms present may be difficult for colleges to ignore, especially as the technology continues to mature and evolve.

"For a decade, people have been asking, 'How does the Internet change higher education,'" Edward B. Rock, a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Times. "This is the beginning. It opens up all sorts of possibilities."

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