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Are Online Courses Aimed Mainly at Those Who Already Have a Degree?

(Image courtesy Tulane University @ Flickr)

A new study claims that 80% of people who take online courses already have a post-secondary degree – either college or university level education already. Of course, this invites the typical response from naysayers who claim this is proof that online courses have failed in their mission to reach the people who can’t go to traditional school, and how this is a failure of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) movement as a whole.

From Ed Tech Magazine:

It’s encouraging to know that these students are eager to advance themselves and their careers, but this isn’t the revolutionary change we thought MOOCs would spark.

And this:

MOOCs aren’t going to replace traditional higher education. As this survey makes clear, MOOCs will not supplant traditional higher education in America. Sure, the courses will shake things up, but colleges are responding by hosting their own MOOCs and partnering with platforms like Coursera, edX and Udacity. It’s more likely that MOOCs supplement our current education system. Partnerships like this should help guide the development of MOOCs as a learning tool and, eventually, as a career-training tool.

Certainly some people had a dream that all of this great online training would suddenly be available in the heart of Africa, the deepest slums of Brazil, and the poorest neighborhoods of America. And by these courses being made available, suddenly a million students would be enrolled in Harvard-level education whereas a few thousand currently have access.

First, the revolution HAS happened. It’s here. Anyone around the world CAN take hundreds (almost thousands) of courses from the leading educational institutions in the mostly-English speaking world. But expecting that Harvard and Yale would be thrown out of business in a couple of short years? That’s too much to expect.

Second, I think the study is purposely ignoring the success. Purposely ignoring hundreds of thousands (yes, that many) of students from around the world who are getting their first exposure to these educational topics that were previously trapped in books at the library. Purposely ignoring how teachers are learning new modern ways to educate, which will in turn change the way classroom lessons are taught.

How many years away is it normal for students enrolled in Universities and Colleges to take the majority of their lectures online over video, and attend classes for project work, to do assignments, and to have their questions answered? When a professor gets really good at delivering the “Philosophy 101” lectures on video, and the added enhancements of online learning are really brought to bear, having him deliver the same lecture in person year after year for decades will lose it’s appeal quickly.

The revolution is here. It’s happened. It’s happening. But that doesn’t mean schools are going away, or that students from poor background are no longer at a disadvantage. They still are. Only less.


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