In 2011, more than 160,000 students, spanning the globe, enrolled in a free online learning version of Professor Sebastian Thrun’s artificial-intelligence course. Thrun, well-known as a Stanford roboticist, is the founder of Udacity, a for-profit provider of MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) that supported the class. Coursera followed suit in 2012, founded by two Computer Science professors. As of November, 2012, a little over 1.9 million students, from 196 countries have enrolled in at least one course. edX , the non-profit MOOC provider , launched in the Fall 2012, as a collaboration of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) and Harvard University.
Announced in January, 2013, Thrun is assisting California State Universities to find an innovative solution to education budget cuts and the increasing cost of higher education. A simple request, “I need your help” from California Governor, Jerry Brown, started the plan in motion. At the press conference, Governor Brown, shared his sentiments, “student debt is a huge problem and online learning is an answer.” MOOCs are changing the cultural, economic, and limited availability of higher education.
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San Jose State University is teaming up with Udacity for an unusual pilot program, offering three introductory mathematics classes free online. Students wanting credit from San Jose State, will pay around $150 instead of the current price of $450 to $750 price of current credit classes. Thrun further acknowledges the need for improvement within the MOOC model. While mass numbers register for the classes, only 8% of the students complete the course. The pilot program is studying the need for mentors and assistance for the students to keep them motivated with their desire to learn.
As a personal proponent of online learning, I see this step as the natural evolution for our current higher education system. Students today, in elementary schools, are using technology to assist in their daily curriculum. Teachers use technology to help the parents stay involved and assist the partnership of family, school, and community that is the backbone of public education. At home, the use of technology is as natural to them as brushing their teeth. Have you seen a young child’s natural adaptability with an i-phone?
I took my first online class in the mid 1990’s. As of this year, I still have over $25,000 in student loans and no degree to show for it. What I did receive was a desire for learning. I take online class from Virtual Universities, webinars, and sometimes through the local community college. MOOCs will be my next online learning venture. The ability to connect and learn from other students around the globe is a social media platform I can support. The desire to obtain a degree is still part of the American Dream for me and should not be marred with heavy debt and above average costs.
It is a huge paradigm shift from our current system. Teachers will need to become more than just an authority figure at the head of the class. They will become learning facilitators and collaborators along with their students. Administrators will need to look at continuing ways to bridge the gap of the budget versus the student. Students will need to find structure and the desire to learn to continue to succeed. It will take a lot of self-responsibility and discipline to grab that dream. MOOC is education with the masses in an open forum and for now anyway, it is free for the taking. The only cost is the desire to change the way you approach your own learning.
Julie Foss is wife, mother, writer, and lifelong student of life. On her blog, Big Girl Bombshell, sharing her travels on the Yellow Brick Road, Potholes and all.