Saturday, May 12, 2012

Will edX Put Harvard and MIT Out of Business?


5/06/2012 @ 11:31AM  / Peter Cohan, Contributor



Online education is getting a sudden burst of media attention. That’s because the two biggest brands in the business – Harvard and MIT – announced a multi-million dollar program to deliver some courses online. And since these schools are widely admired, other colleges and universities are asking questions about what they should be doing with online learning. But this leads to a fundamental question: Why do people go to college?

[snip]

What Harvard and MIT and the other globally-leading schools offer students are two priceless assets – branding and professional networks.  Branding means that the most exclusive club in the world has decided that you have the magic combination of brains and personality that will result in exceptional career accomplishment.  And their alumni networks occupy top positions in fields that matter to their students – thus providing students with access to opportunities they would not otherwise have.

As long as students who take edX are blocked from the branding and professional networks that parents of degree-enrolled students pay so dearly to obtain, such top schools have nothing to fear from giving away what the teachers are getting paid modestly to deliver. [snip].

And maybe this explains why some of the best are starting their own companies to commercialize the brands that they have forged in top universities. Two Stanford professors, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, have formed a company, Coursera to deliver interactive courses in the humanities, social sciences, mathematics and engineering. [snip].

But let’s look at such online education programs from the student’s perspective.  As Steve Rothschild, an entrepreneur who teaches at Worcester, Mass.-based, Clark University’s entrepreneurship capstone course told me, “Programs like edX will revolutionize college education.”

In his view, students will be able to get basic knowledge that forms the foundation for capstone classes like the one that Rothschild teaches from programs such as edX. Those free courses could take the place of community colleges. [snip].

Rothschild believes that programs like edX could deliver far more cost-effectively with better learning outcomes the basic courses – that in many universities often have hundreds of students who listen to lectures.  [snip].

In Rothschild’s view, there is still a need – particularly with a capstone course or a senior thesis for working with other people and getting direct feedback in-person from a professor.  [snip].

[snip]

But programs like edX raise another question: Would CEOs like Rothschild hire young people with edX credits in lieu of a formal $200,000 degree? One of his companies hired a chief operating officer and a chief technology officer – both of whom did not graduate from college and ended up accumulating knowledge and experience needed to become what he thought of as excellent leaders.

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