Classroom, eLearning

MOOC: Is Free Online Education Competition for Residential Colleges?

Finally there is an alternative to a high-priced residential college education: free online education. Fee-based online universities and free online courses have been around for a long time, but now it might be possible soon to get an entire college education at a significantly reduced price, if not for free. Especially now, smaller residential colleges and universities may have to compete for your tuition dollar even more than before.

Carnegie Mellon has had free online courses for years. But now several big name universities offer many courses online for free. The so-called “massive open online courses” or “MOOCs” represent a sea change in delivering education.

mooc free online education

In May 2012, MIT and Harvard started edX and report receiving 10,000 course registrations a day for its first course. In the end, over 100,000 students signed up for “Circuits and Electronics.” In July UC Berkeley joined MIT and Harvard to offer their own free not-for-credit MOOCs through edX. While edX is starting slowly, offering only a handful of courses in their first fall quarter, it plans to increase their offerings continuously.

Coursera: Free online education

Coursera, on the other hand, is growing much more rapidly. Stanford started Coursera in the Fall of 2011 with 160,000 students registering for its first MOOC on artificial intelligence. Currently about 16 big name universities offer their courses through Coursera. It already has an extensive list of course offerings, all for free.

The University of Maryland, which has offered online courses for years, plans to offer a “hybrid” version, a combination of on-line and in-person courses, as a standard course option in its degree program. William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, cites an anticipated 25% cost reduction for the University coupled with an ability to reach for more students.

No one is offering courses for credit yet but the University of Washington, for one, plans to do just exactly that and soon. MIT and Harvard already offer a “certificate of completion” which is certainly something to put on a resume.

Not everyone finishes these free online courses. The completion rate is a good news/bad news story. For example, of the 155,000 who signed up for MIT’s “Circuits and Electronics” only 7,157 passed the course, which is still a far greater number than if the course were only offered live. Many students are probably simply browsing when they register for an online course but, as the menu of free courses increases and the prospect of obtaining a degree achieves reality, more students will plan to finish more courses.

Some educators are highly critical of online classes, finding them “sterile” and un-motivating. If every course were simply a video of someone lecturing to a camera, this criticism would be well-taken. Internet technology, however, is rapidly expanding to make the experience much more engaging.

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Mary Brown

Mary Brown

Mary Brown has enjoyed writing about education and finance related topics, such as scholarships, student loans, college, vocational degree choices, and adult education since the early 2000's. She also writes about school budgets, accreditation and fundraising.