Some think that because the Facebook IPO has fizzled, social networking is obviously has peaked and will decline. However, it could be that Facebook actually is paving the way to a new breakthrough online…one that could be much more significant than a social website that allows people to gossip about their lives with a thousand of their closest friends.
What Facebook has shown to this point is that you can use the Internet to supplant high school and college yearbooks. Now, think about what could happen to education if we use the Internet to completely replace the college experience.
Some colleges are starting to do just that. MIT recently appointed a new president who has launched MITx, which is a free online education resource. Now, this isn’t just random lectures posted on the Internet for students to watch. The program also features coursework, chat groups and a certification process after you complete the coursework online. The fact that MITx is just offering a ‘certificate’ opens up a very interesting can of worms. How can universities continue to charge $25,000 per year for an on campus education, when there is tons of low cost or even free education online?
Other entities are getting into the swing of low cost online education as well. Newsweek reported a few weeks ago on the launch of a free, online college that is called Coursera. The program has signed on a number of volunteer professors from Ivy League and other top schools, such as Princeton, Stanford, Michigan, and Penn State. Coursera has on offer about 40 courses on math, science, history and even poetry. These are complete courses, with homework, exams and real grades.
At this point MITx and Coursera are free offerings, and the instructors are doing it for free. But if these types of online programs can change the lives of people and provide them a quality education, money will be made and it will start to put pressure on regular on campus colleges. One way to make money on these sites would be to charge corporations a fee for assisting them in finding qualified personnel.
Whether or not online education tools such as MITx and Coursera will become a new model for secondary education is not clear at this time. However, there is no question that there are many very smart and financially comfortable people and entities that are working on this issue, including billionaire Mark Cuban. There is a strong likelihood that some of them are going to come up with a way to use online education websites to bring education to more people at a much more reasonable price than what current on campus programs offer.
The role of online education in the education of future workers is still evolving, but there is much more to come from this growing and exciting Internet space. Stay tuned.