Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Online Courses Arrive

This week I took the final exam for an online course in computer algorithms, completing the second of two online courses I have taken this year at Coursera. The college courses behind me, it now feels like summer vacation — never mind that my regular daily work continues.

By coincidence, my final exam came at the same time that edX was announcing its launch and fall courses. EdX is the biggest initiative yet in creating free, automated online versions of college courses.

EdX may be starting cautiously, with just a few course offerings, but it is sure to be big from the beginning.  It could have more than one million students this fall, and while that might not be huge in Internet terms, it is big by educational standards. After all, how many universities have one million students?

There are still big questions about where the online courses fit in. Today I was wondering about the right way to list the courses on my resume, but as online education becomes more common, employers will have to decide how students who take a succession of online courses compare to those who earn a traditional degree.

These questions are sure to be difficult and controversial, but they can’t be postponed for long. The free online courses might have been below the radar till now because of the small amount of money changing hands, but their educational impact, measured in terms of the number of students and how much they learn, could be greater than that of traditional on-campus college education within just a few years.