Summit on MOOCs and Online Learning: Elite Colleges Weigh In!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a private summit held yesterday in Cambridage, Massachusetts, and sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, at which many of “online education’s heaviest hitters” discussed the future of residential higher education, particularly at elite institutions, in a digital age.

The article comments:

“while online education may have arrived at the upper echelons of higher education, it’s not going to make elite colleges any cheaper to attend.  Massive open online courses and other online tools, however, may change many aspects of top undergraduate campuses. That was the conclusion of a private summit, After years of standing by while the online wave gathered momentum at lower-tier institutions, MIT and Harvard last year gave online education a $60-million bear hug by collaborating to found edX, a nonprofit MOOC provider that could also serve as a laboratory for studying the dynamics of virtual classrooms.  The universities made it clear then that they intended to use their MOOCs to improve, not supplant, traditional courses.


“Some attempts to use MOOCs to improve the experience of traditional students have not panned out. One panelist said early attempts at his university to foster interaction between learners in the traditional and MOOC versions of a course met with resistance from the tuition-paying students, who wanted a distinct experience for their money.

Those students may eventually come around, but the amount they are paying for a traditional college experience probably will not—at least not at top colleges. None of the institutions represented at the summit is likely to use any revenue or savings from the use of online tools to lower tuition, said one provost. No one at the session disagreed.

It’s more likely that online tools will be used to increase value at the same price, said another provost. That means more seminars, more project-based courses, and more mentorship opportunities, he said.”

Taking another view was William G. Bowen, the former president of Princeton University, who:

“reminded the audience that they occupied “really rarefied air” in deciding how they might want to use online education.

But professors who are serious about reaching the masses online, he said, will have to think about innovation and design with a broader, more diverse audience in mind.

“I would humbly suggest that the kinds of assessment and standards and all the rest that I’m sure are appropriate at MIT and Harvard and so forth,” Mr. Bowen said, “have very little relevance for the large parts of American higher education, particularly in the state systems, that are under genuine siege.”

I agree with Bowen and it appears  that the elites are saying that online education to supplant courses is okay for public and second-tier universities but not for their institutions.



One comment

  1. Does your website have a contact page? I’m having problems locating it but, I’d like to send you an e-mail. I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it improve over time.