Open Online Courses: Are They Replacing Traditional Higher Education?

If you look at the facts surrounding traditional higher education, it’s apparent that something needs to change. Frustration is mounting from both an educational and financial standpoint. Only six in ten students are graduating within six years at four-year institutions. Graduates lack the skills that employers are looking for, and tuition has risen faster than both household earnings and inflation for more than two decades.

Meanwhile, there is a new trend emerging: massive open online courses or MOOCs. These courses can reach millions around the world and promise students faster completion times, higher levels of engagement and measurable results. These courses are free and offered by some of the best professors in the world, including those from Harvard, MIT and Stanford. Users pay nothing for access and can choose the online classes they want, building their own educational profile and bolstering their resumes. Not-for-profit and for-profit programs include Coursera, edX and Udacity.

MOOCs offer huge benefits to students and professors, but employers reap some of the best rewards since they have been frustrated with the lack of skills of recent graduates. It’s this dynamic that may change the way we look at higher education forever. An early indicator that MOOCs are a breakthrough and not a trend is the fact that some courses have been approved for undergraduate credit. Only time will tell if accredited courses will be next.

So how exactly do MOOCs work? Users sign up for an account with the program of their choice and select their courses. The offerings are extensive, with classes ranging from intermediate to expert levels and touching on every topic imaginable. Students having completed MOOCs will have a strong educational background, experience with some of the finest professors in the country and highly desirable skills and traits. They will be strong candidates for positions that were once only available to graduates with a college degree.

Still, there are valid concerns regarding MOOCs. A higher education is something of value, and it should be worked for. If students have the expectation that college is free, they won’t have the same commitment than if they were to invest in their education. Also, in order to deliver a high-quality education, students should have to pay modest fees to help the university sustain its mission and grow its program.

No matter what is accomplished through traditional brick-and-mortar universities and digitally centered programs, we can be certain that millions of students will succeed in their quest to building a career without having to set foot on a college campus.

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