Is this the beginning of the end for the traditional University system ?


I am actually registered in two courses on a website which is part of the  “Massive Open Online Courses,” ( MOOC) system so called because they are free and online – and offered by some of the best-known universities in the world . With Stanford University, Duke university and others joining in,  a class-room of 90,000 people is not unheard of. With this scale, a free education and certification at the end of the process, does this mean the end of traditional university as we know it? I would argue that this is not the case and the good old university system, with its brick and mortar  infrastructure will still remain. Here are a few reasons why.

Firstly, the University system as we know it today, is very old – more than a thousand years old, with Al-Azhar University dating back to 988 A.D. Common sense dictates that if something has survived so long, it is for a good reason, and is unlikely to be discarded so fast. Especially, such a complex institution as the University.

Secondly, the learning model that online courses offer is not amenable to learning for all levels of students, and also the quality of interaction and learning is suspect. While each one of us learns differently, the general notion of learning i.e., by critically reflecting, asking questions and discussing and debating with others does not really exist online as it does in a real life classroom setting. This gives the traditional system an edge, that is not present in the online model.

Thirdly, will this online education be as recognized as the “regular,” education? The credibility of a degree from Phoenix University is not the same as that from a regular university, many would argue.

But, there is also the counter argument that the world of education is shifting. The way that all of us are getting information,  knowledge and ideas is increasingly shifting to an online base. This is a result of the online, information revolution, which is in some ways global ( barring those remote places which don’t have internet access).

So, no matter whether we believe in it or not, the MOOCS are here to stay. Will the market shake up their model and remove them from the scene, like any other start-up, or will they evolve into more stable forms? We may not know for sure, but what we do know is that there are thousands and thousands of students signing up for these courses and that is a fact we should not ignore, when debating about their success.