MOOC 2.0: Open online education moves forward

China's then-President Hu Jintao meets with then-Yale University President Richard Levin in New Haven, Conn. in 2006. 

 There are some new developments this week in the land of the MOOC. That’s shorthand for the "Massive Open Online Courses" that were supposed to transform higher education as we know it, bringing free education from the likes of Harvard and Stanford to you and me.

MOOC pioneer Coursera has hired a new CEO -- none other than the former long-time president of Yale University, Richard Levin.

Meanwhile Coursera competitor edX has a new president from the business world -- former Vistaprint executive Wendy Cebula. The hires mark a new phase in the evolution of free online education as it tries to move beyond the initial hype -- and the inevitable backlash.

"Clearly there's a big jump between the credibility of two Stanford faculty members and someone who's a 20-year president of Yale University," says Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller. "I think this really makes clear that we are not out to put universities out of business -- have never been out to do that."


Six signs that MOOCs are growing up

by Marc Sollinger

MOOCs, or Massively Open Online Courses, are pretty much exactly what their acronym implies: college courses offered on the web that anyone can take. The actual format of the courses vary by what actual work is required and whether they're free or require payment. Critics say they’re overhyped.  However you parse it, MOOCs are becoming a big deal. Here are six signs they’re growing up: 

1. Ex-Yale president joins Coursera

Coursera is the largest provider of MOOCs, with 532 courses offered. And Richard C. Levin, who ran Yale for 20 years, will be it’s CEO. This development means Coursera will be led by someone with lots of ties the world of brick-and-mortar higher ed. This move could show that Coursera is looking to get at least some of its courses accredited. (So far, none of the schools that create content for Coursera actually offer credit for courses taken.)

2. Thomas Friedman thinks MOOCs might save the world

Well, perhaps not save the world. But Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, does think that “nothing has more potential to lift more people out of poverty.” It’s not just Friedman that thinks MOOCs might change education -- they’ve been praised in Al Jazeera, elsewhere in the New York Times, and Wired. Though MOOCs have had their share of criticism, the idea that they could democratize education is widely-held.

3. MOOCs go global

It’s not just U.S. colleges that are offering MOOCs. Universities in Finland, France, and Ireland also have their own massive online courses. In the U.K. they’ve launched FutureLearn, which offers courses from 23 local universities. Part of the appeal of MOOCs is that anyone from across the globe can access them and increasingly, the courses can come from anywhere as well. In fact, one Harvard professor’s course was so popular in South Korea, he was invited to throw out the first pitch at a baseball game in that country.

4. Wharton puts its first year online

Last year, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the most prestigious business schools in the U.S., put much of its first-year MBA content online. Though you won’t get access to career services or an alumni network, and the courses aren’t actually for credit, you can still access all the information presented to a beginning Wharton student. This interest in MOOCs is not atypical of top-tier business schools, with seven of Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Top 10 Business Schools experimenting with them. 

5. MOOCs help train physician’s assistants in Ghana

A team at the University of New Mexico has partnered with Central University College in Ghana to use MOOCs to train physician’s assistants. The project is still in its early stages. It involves buying tablets for 30 students studying to be doctor’s aides in rural Ghana and using the tablets to train the students while they help people in their communities. Though it’s not a standard MOOC, according to the University of New Mexico’s Charlotte Gunawardena, it demonstrates the potential of the technology.

6. Georgia Tech offers master's degree through a MOOC

Though MOOCs can broadcast a college’s content, most universities don’t offer accreditation for completing one. So it was big news when Georgia Tech offered a Master's in Computer Science using massively open online course technology. The master's degree cost $6,600, cheap compared to the $44,000 Georgia Tech charges for residential studies, but far more than the $49 Coursera charges for its courses.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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