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Online Schooling and The Democratization of Education

by Kelly Walsh on December 26, 2011


What better topic for a day-after-Christmas post than the gift of free education? Thanks to Elaine Hirsch for this article about exciting recent developments in online education.

MIT and Stanford’s online schooling initiatives represent a dramatic change in the model of higher education. Since these programs are known for offering the best undergraduate and graduate programs around the world, they are hoping to leverage their name to help expand cutting-edge teaching methods to the internet audience. By making these courses available via online schooling, they can serve a worldwide student base. Furthermore, these free courses will vastly expand the reach of higher education to socioeconomic groups who previously were unable to take advantage of a higher education.

Open Learning and Education

The open learning initiative recently announced by MIT and similar initiatives announced by Stanford represent a radical expansion of the concepts of distance education.. MIT’s learning initiative, known as MITx, sets up a tool kit composed of online services, allowing students and instructors alike to interact online, including grading, evaluation of student progress and interactive meetings with the instructors. Most importantly, this platform is free and open source, making it available to other schools and students alike.

The most important aspect of this system of online education is that it permits a vast number of students who otherwise could not afford to attend a high quality university such as MIT to take classes online for free. In fact, MIT expects that within ten years MITx will enable the university to reach over one billion online students, again at no direct cost to the participating students. Furthermore, by successfully completing these courses will result in the students receiving official recognition of their progress from the University in the form of a certificate.

Stanford’s open learning initiative has seen similar success. Offerings from Stanford’s school of engineering have attracted hundreds of thousands of students from all over the world. Furthermore, by linking social media to the courses, the students can assist each other in exploring and understanding the coursework. This is a vital consideration given the large number of online participants.

The Democratization of Education

Higher education, even education that has traditionally been heavily subsidized, such as the University of California system, has been unable to provide services to all the students desiring to attend. Some attribute this to an imbalance in supply and demand, while others point to a failure in the higher education system. Regardless, this has forced many individuals to forgo obtaining the higher education they desire, whether due to finances or simply being unable to attend the school. The new initiatives from Stanford and MIT promise to radically transform this equation.

By making online courses available at no cost to the student, and more importantly by allowing official acknowledgment of the successful completion of the coursework, the availability of a university level education has been radically expanded. The participation in both MIT and Stanford’s programs has far outstripped the number of students attending via more traditional methods, and this demonstrates the demand for accessible and online university courses.

Via their online educational programs, the two universities are contributing to the democratization of education. These new teaching methods have the potential to transform education, making the long desired goal of allowing anyone, regardless of nationality or socioeconomic status, to obtain a high quality education a reality.

Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
The Changing Dynamic of Online Education
Succeeding With Reverse Instruction – One Instructor’s Inspired Approach
Getting The Most Out Of Student Blogging Assignments And Instructional Blogging


Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer and a faculty member at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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