By Barbara Shelly
Not even five years ago, the hottest trend in higher education was free and had a funny name.
It was the MOOC, short for massive open online course. The idea was that the elites of academia would put their knowledge and lectures on the Internet, where they could be accessed around the world at no cost.
This would lead to a revolution, so the thinking went. No longer would higher education be the province of the wealthy or the sap willing to go $50,000 in debt for a diploma. MOOCs would democratize advanced learning and shake the well-endowed foundations of the modern university.
The New York Times proclaimed 2012 The Year of the MOOC. Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford University computer science professor, left his prestigous job for a MOOC startup, Udacity. “In 50 years,” he boldly told the publication Wired, “there will be only 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot at being one of them.”
There were some questions, of course. How long would academics give away their content for free? What was the incentive for students to stick with the courses when most of them didn’t offer credit? How were the companies that produced the courses going to make money?
Still, if a revolution is coming, it’s best to jump on the wave, or at least not speak ill of it. Colleges and universities cautiously began experimenting with putting academic content on line for free.
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