Online Education Craze: A Different Vantage Point


MOOC Crib (Photo credit: snowpup5)

By Lillian Williams

From Time Ideas: Are those popular, free courses from elite schools such as Princeton and Harvard actually widening the learning gap?

Put another way, the question posed by Noliwe M. Rooks in Time Ideas is this: Are we leaving behind a substantial part of the student population in this fast-paced digital education age?

As described in a previous post of this blog, the latest buzz in online education, of course, is a new (or perhaps renewed) wave of courses called MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses.  A MOOC can bring together tens of thousands of students worldwide within a single Web-based class.

MOOC courses typically do not award college credit, though some offer certificates for completion of course work. (In a recent move, the University of Washington reportedly is working on a plan to offer credit for some MOOC courses, for a fee.)

Examples of MOOCs (and variations of MOOCs) are the following:

To say that these courses are popular is an understatement. As noted in a previous post of this blog, when the University of Illinois opened registration for one of its MOOCs, 14,000 students worldwide enrolled on the first day of registration.

As noted in another post of this blog, American computer scientist Peter Norvig was stunned when 160,000 people worldwide signed up for Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, the MOOC he co-taught with Sebastian Thrun of Stanford.

But Rooks examines the growing online education movement from a very different perspective in her Time Ideas analysis. Among her arguments are the following:

  • Over the past 10 years, public school districts have invested millions of
    dollars in various types of online and computer-aided
    and instruction programs, yet few are able to show the educational

     benefit of their expenditures for a majority of students. Those who benefit most
     are already well organized and highly motivated. Other
    students struggle
    , and may even lose ground
  • A Department of Education report found that “the biggest benefit of online instruction came from a blended learning environment that combined technology with traditional methods, but warned that the uptick had more to do with the increased amount of individualized instruction students got in that environment, not the presence of technology. For all but the brightest, the more time students spend with traditional instruction, the better they seem to do.”
  • But only 35% of households earning less than $25,000 have broadband access to the Internet, compared with 94% of households with income in excess of $100,000. In addition, according to the 2010 Pew Report on Mobile Access, only half of black and Latino homes have Internet connections at all, compared with almost 65% of white households. Perhaps most significant, many blacks and Latinos primarily use their cell phones to access the Internet, a much more expensive and less-than-ideal method for taking part in online education. In short, the explosion of this type of educational instruction, though free now, may leave behind the students who need education the most.”

Read more of Rooks’ perspective at

It’s your turn.  Are segments of the student population being left behind in this era of digital education?  What would you recommend to even the playing field in education?  We invite you to comment below.

This entry was posted in digital education, e-learning courses, free e-learning course, free elearning courses, MOOC, online courses, online learning, online teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Online Education Craze: A Different Vantage Point

  1. This will create better understanding of the material. The technology has been planned with the
    understanding that every child has a different learning style and ability
    of learning. You may not have been the best parent or spouse,
    but still you’re not to blame for their choices, so give yourself a break.

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