By Steve Kolowich
After years of skepticism, higher education’s upper class has finally decided that online learning is going to play an important role in its future. But what will that role be?
Recently, conversations about “elite” online education has revolved around the free online courses, aka MOOCs, which Stanford, MIT, Harvard, and dozens of other top universities started offering several years ago. But it soon became clear that high marks in those courses would not translate to academic credit at the institutions offering them (or anywhere else).
So how exactly does online education figure into the future of elite higher education? Judging by what we’ve seen so far, the answer can be divided into three parts.
1. Free online courses for everyone.
MOOCs are the McMansions of online higher education — capacious, impressive-looking, and easy to supply to the masses once professors have drawn up the blueprints.
Families who want to work with the architects directly are not opting for a sequence of free online courses instead of an exclusive residential program that ends with a degree. Even if the MOOCs lose money, wealthier universities can afford to take a hit — especially if it means increasing their visibility in valuable overseas markets.
2. Paid online courses for professional graduate programs.
Yale University recently unveiled a new master’s program for aspiring physician’s assistants, offered through its medical school. The program will also involve a lot of fieldwork, but much of the academic coursework will be delivered online. It is the second program Yale has created along these lines; the other is a partially online doctoral degree in nursing, which the university announced in 2011.
[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/article/How-Elite-Universities/229233/ ]