Massive Open Online Courses Shaping the Future of Higher Education

By Chris Hassan
Posted August 07, 2012 12:21 PM

Many schools offering courses online for free.
Many schools offering courses online for free.
With the cost of college being what it is, earning a bachelor’s degree has never been more expensive for students and their families. In fact, recent data from Sallie Mae revealed that during the 2011-2012 academic year, 69% of families were unable to consider attendance at some prospective colleges due to cost.

As a result, it is not uncommon for students to seek out more affordable options. Thanks to advances in online education, it is now possible for individuals to take courses from some of the country’s most respected institutions at no cost whatsoever.

Discovering MOOCs' Potential

Prospective college students may not be very familiar with the concept of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, but it is worth knowing about them. After all, CBS MoneyWatch reported that an increase in these options could transform higher education, as they have the potential to improve the quality of web-based instruction and lower teaching costs. Ultimately, it is possible MOOCs could expand access to education at the college level.

"It holds the potential for serving many, many hundreds of thousands of students in a way we simply cannot today," Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, told MoneyWatch.

What makes MOOCs stand out?

For students who live in and outside of the U.S., taking courses offered by schools like Harvard University, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is very appealing. As a result, it should come as no surprise that many people were excited to take free online classes offered through these institutions. When MIT made its first course, "Circuits and Electronics," available online this past spring, 154,000 individuals from around the world registered.

Among those to take a stab at completing the course was Ashwith Rego, a 24-year-old engineer who resides in Bangalore, India. For Rego, the chance to learn from MIT professors free of charge without even having to come to the U.S. was never something he could foresee happening.

"Our goal is to reinvent education," said Anant Agarwal, president of edX, the web portal through which MIT’s courses are offered. "It will dramatically improve the quality, efficiency and scale of learning worldwide and on our campuses."

Learn for Free with an iPod

MOOCs were not the first way for individuals to access college course material for free. For some time now, Apple has hosted iTunes U, where users can peruse more than 500,000 pieces of academic content, including lectures and videos, from such institutions as MIT and Yale University and download them free of charge, according to the iTunes U website.

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