A generation of young Americans is bearing the brunt of
decades of runaway college costs. Graduates are entering the workforce with
staggering student loans that are inhibiting their ability to buy homes, cars
and start families.
Massive open online courses—or MOOCs—hold the promise of
bending that cost curve down. The genius of MOOCs is that they can reach
millions of students. Their Achilles' heel, if they have one, is that they are
With the growing pressure to lower the cost of higher
education, we asked three experts to weigh in on the role MOOCs could play in
the future of higher education, and how MOOCs might change the way we think
Joining our roundtable discussion, by email, are Clay
Shirky, a New York University professor who researches the social and economic
effects of technology; Darryl Tippens, provost of Pepperdine University; and
Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor of online learning at the University
of Illinois Springfield.
WSJ: Do you foresee a day when MOOCs will replace classroom
PROF. SHIRKY: No, I don't.
The places that do high-touch education well, the Oberlins
and Reeds of the world, will be just fine. The places that are just using
classrooms to deliver content in a low-touch way will suffer some displacement.
But far and away the most important effect of online education will be to bring
in people who aren't part of the current educational system at all, from people
with degrees and jobs using them for retraining (which we already see a lot of)
to people who could never have afforded an M.S. in computer science now [being]
able to get one from Georgia Tech for less than $7,000.
PROF. SCHROEDER: I agree that MOOCs will not overtake
traditional campus-based learning. Instead, they may reach the newly forming
markets of just-in-time learners, job-credentialing and skills-updating. These
are areas that have not been well-served by higher education in the past.
PROF. TIPPENS: The distinction between
"campus-based" learning and "distance" learning will be
blurred in the years ahead. It's already happening. We are finding that some
graduate students at Pepperdine who are receiving face-to-face instruction are
also asking that some of their coursework be delivered online. They want
both/and. Thus, it won't just be nontraditional students in remote locations
who will benefit from online instruction. The blended model of instruction is
already working well. I expect it will expand.
PROF. SHIRKY: The experience of Penn State's pioneering
World Campus bears this out. As the name suggests, the program was meant to
pick up students from around the world, but the principal early effect was
their own residential grad students taking classes online, usually just one a
semester, to make their course load more manageable.
for the full discussion in the Wall Street Journal.