By Nick Anderson
Students in a free online physics course from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology demonstrated roughly equal learning gains if they stuck with the class, regardless of previous academic experience, researchers reported Tuesday.
Their progress also was comparable to what some MIT students showed when they were required to take the introductory course on campus as a remedial measure.
The findings offer evidence that “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, can be an effective way to teach a broad range of people from around the world who want to learn from top-flight universities without paying tuition.
“It’s an issue that has been very controversial,” David Pritchard, an MIT physics professor, said in a statement. “A number of well-known educators have said there isn’t going to be much learning in MOOCs, or if there is, it will be for people who are already well-educated.”
Pritchard led a team of academics from MIT, Tsinghua University in China and Harvard University who analyzed the results of an MIT course called Mechanics Review, which was offered in 2013 on the MOOC platform edX. Results of their study were published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.
MOOCs have drawn widespread attention for more than two years as a potentially disruptive force in higher education. Web sites have sprung up to offer hundreds of courses free, covering subjects from computer science to poetry and produced by major colleges and universities.
Coursera, based in Mountain View, Calif., is a for-profit company that offers online courses from the Universities of Virginia and Maryland, among many others. MIT and Harvard founded nonprofit edX, based in Cambridge, Mass., in 2012; participants now include Georgetown University, among others.
[ Full article available at The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/mit-report-finds-learning-gains-for-students-who-took-free-online-course/2014/09/23/7ceb34e6-4330-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html ]