Sunday, September 15, 2013

MOOCs vs. 'Brick and Mortar' Classroom Education

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are the next big thing that is happening or will happen to the way education is practiced today. It has its own pros and cons, and people who love it and people who don't like it. What excited me about this was the news on Friday the 13th, September (a day widely known for bad omen), where Wharton (leading business school in the world) is offering its 1st year online courses on People have already started speculating about this move of Wharton. First some facts [source: Bloomberg]:

    Wharton Offers Free Online Courses Copying First-Year MBA Study

    Source: Bloomberg

    coursera: A hub of MOOCs

  1. "For a $49 fee, students can get a verified electronic certificate showing they’ve completed course requirements."
  2. "Some Wharton professors are using the MOOC content in their own classes, asking students to watch the lessons beforehand so that class time can be used for discussion -- a practice known as “flipping” a class."
  3. "About 700,000 students in 173 countries have enrolled in Wharton MOOCs, more than the combined enrollment in the school’s traditional MBA and undergraduate programs since its founding in 1881."
  4. "Wharton has no skeleton to accept a certificates for course credit should students subsequently enroll."

Once we get a grasp of the above facts, we are in a better position to understand the role of such MOOCs in present as well as in future. 

What is in it for Wharton/MBA programs?

  • Let us say about 1% of registered students apply for electronic certification, this gives about $343,000 revenue to Wharton/coursera which is not bad.
  • Philanthropy.
  • Advertising/knowledge about their MBA program world-wide.
  • A typical MBA program is  beyond just book-based knowledge, and when students can learn the book based stuff online, classroom teaching is even more effective - "flipping a class" concept.
  • Creating a standardized course/syllabus that is known worldwide.

What is in it for coursera programs?

  • Possible revenue sharing for certification.
  • More recognition with top rated programs and schools offering classes.
  • Overall increase in number of students.

What is in it for students?

  • Extremely cheap way of acquiring 'reliable' knowledge.
  • Certifications.
  • Additional knowledge outside classroom for students who are already attending college.
  • Students in developing or under-developed countries have access to open knowledge sources, and with this there will be an increasing pressure on academicians in the world to match up to that standard.

My Take:

  • This is an exciting area for any university to launch into, it legitimizes their philanthropy, certification, course syllabus.
  • It is a win-win for MOOC hubs such as coursera, which can make money as well as attract students with legit courses.
  • It is also a good source for students to learn what is current, and what is standard to learn.


  • With so many universities that will spring into the MOOC market, there is a need for further standardization and coordination so that we can ensure uniform learning across platforms and countries.
  • Offering courses in multiple languages to improve out-reach.
  • Students should not confuse this with the classroom experience, where there is a more intimate connect with a teacher, and fellow students. This is the key issue which will govern the future of MOOCs, as well as traditional classroom. Narrowing the gap could be detrimental for at least one mode of education that will replace.


  1. Verified electronic certificate is currently a trifle :( Tried it once. But nevertheless, it turns out that even the free certificates are considered by employers. Conclusion: pay $50 only if you just want to support the project, do not expect much.

  2. This is the key point here, how schools think students evaluate such online courses and how students are actually evaluating these classes. The true value of such classes should vary from geography, background of students, and the course provider. There is plenty of opportunity here, and I strongly feel that this system is still in infancy.