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Kyle Marcotte
November 18th 2012
Engl 100-15
Brian Ganter

Online Education: The Future is happening now?

What comes to mind when you think of the future of education? Do you see a classroom full of people with tablets, giving education a more technologically hands-on experience? Well, what I see is the total absence of a classroom altogether, instead: online courses. Not only are classes currently switching to the digital form, but many institutions are offering them for free. This will allow anyone with an internet connection to gain a higher education if they please. Not everyone is happy with this change. This will threaten the monopoly that many for-profit universities currently have on education. Breaking through these chains will eventually lead to more innovation in the educational system and more competition. It will lead to better and cheaper education for everyone.

History of Online Education

Before we take a look into the future, we have to first take a look at the past. Even though the spotlight has only been on online education for the last 10 years or so, it has been around for much longer than most people would think. Online education started many years before the internet came into fruition in the early 90’s. Greg Kearsley, who has specialised in online learning for over 25 years, said in his book “Online education has existed back in the 1970s long before the emergence of the internet.”(kearsley XI). You are probably asking yourself: how did online education exist before there was an internet? Kearsley defines online education as simply “Online education - Use of networked computers to learn or teach.”(kearsley XI). This means anyone who has set up a network of computers to teach someone something could have been considered a pioneer of online education. By the end of their life span, these ‘primitive’ networks have had over “5000 users worldwide”(kearsley 26). When the internet finally showed up the networks was no longer needed and were shut down to pave the way for the future of online education. Many schools were then able to offer full time online courses without the need for a special network or having to go to a campus to use the services. Now anyone can access the courses and material from anywhere that has an internet connection -- from your home office to any cafe that offers WIFI. You are no longer required to go to an institution to gain that knowledge. This was very revolutionary up till MIT decided to do something that would change the way people looked at education forever.

Whats going on now in Online Education

What MIT did was almost unheard of in the US educational system; what some people might even consider a kind of communism. They decided to put their course work online for free so that anyone who wanted to have an MIT education could access it. Anya Kamenetz, an American writer, wrote in her article about edupunks: “....MIT in 2001, when the school agreed to put course work online for free. Today, you can find the full syllabi... for every course MIT offers, from physics to art history.”(Kamenetz). This opened the door to a sneak-peak at what education could be. Anyone could get an MIT education from anywhere in the world with just basic internet connection. Even a very smart, but unfortunate kid from an impoverished part of Delhi in India would have the chance to gain this education. However, there was one drawback in this almost flawless plan to educate the world. “MIT’s course ware may be free, yet an MIT degree still costs upward of $189,000.”(Kamenetz). On one hand, you have this amazing top of the line free education that anyone can access with the click of a mouse. On the other hand, you have the unattainable degree cost that very few people, even in the wealthiest countries in the world can afford. So, the impoverished Delhi kid could get an MIT education, understand everything and even score top marks in his class. But, when it comes down to using that education in a job application, he would be, for the most, out of luck. At the end of the day, without the degree or certification, all the knowledge gained by him would just be for his own enrichment and nothing more. Sure the education is free, but would any university really issue a $190, 000.00 degree for free?

‍Currently, there are no higher level universities offering degrees for free, even though “Ivy League” schools such as: MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley, now offer free online courses.‍ Now that more and more schools are offering free online courses, the top universities must try to stay on top by being innovators. This has caused MIT and Harvard to create EdX -- a not-for-profit online school set up by the two universities -- as a testing ground for what the future of online education is going to offer. They are planning to add a certification -- not a degree -- for those who complete the online courses. The certification will be given once a final exam is taken in exchange for a “modest fee”(Staley). The courses will be free to take, but the certification will come with a price. There will be over “450 test sites worldwide run by Pearson VUE”(Staley). This will allow anyone who has taken the online course to be certified even though it will not bear the same weight as a degree issued by the universities. Any certification from a top school will give someone the chance to obtain a better job that they would not have been able to afford before. This will put a lot of pressure on other schools to keep up with the innovation and most likely drop tuition fees across the board to stay competitive. This could be a problem for profit schools.

Thomas Baily, a director at Columbia University Teachers College, wrote that “The for-profits provide more flexible, convenient, and responsive education than community colleges.”(Baily 9). This is the main reason that for-profit colleges have become so popular. They provide a much more flexible education setting than the traditional community not-for-profit colleges. With the introduction of free online or cheap online certification, which is more flexible than any in class lecture can provide, you will see a shift from for-profit colleges back to the more affordable not-for-profit organisations. This will not only decrease the student debt problem, but increase the competition in the quality of education provided. Since most people, if not everyone, would be able to afford an education, the institution that offers the best education will receive the most applicants. As seen in MIT and Stanford’s launch of their free online education, thousands of people would be able to take the same course. You may hear nay-sayers tell you that the university would not be able to function if the courses were so cheap. How would any innovation ever happen without the dollars to back it up? Well, with millions of people around the world being able to take the same course, rather than a few hundred, the cost would be spread out amongst those people. So, you will end up with a higher education from the top schools that everyone can take and afford at the same time.


Is online really the future of education? With all the largest schools already investing so much time, money and resources into online education, it is hard to see why not. With free courses that anyone around the world can access, globalization of education has just begun. The standards here in Canada, and around the world, will be challenged by the openness of this global education system, leading us to a world where a good education has to earned, and not bought. Not only will this increase the competition between schools to improve their teaching standards, but also the students to step up their game as well.

Works cited

Kamenetz, Anya. "How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education." Fast Company,1 Sept. 2009. Web. 10 Oct. 2011.

Kearsley, Greg. Online Education: Personal Reflections on the Transformation of Education. Englewood Cliffs: Educational Technology Publications, 2005. Print.

Baily,Thomas “For-Profit Higher Education and Community Colleges” 1 Jan. 2001. Stanford University.Web. 18 Nov. 2012.

Dr.P.Nagarajan. “ONLINE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM (e- learning)” International Journal of u- and e- Service 3.4 (2010): 37-48. Print.

Staley, Oliver "Harvard-MIT Online School EdX to Offer Supervised Final Exams" Businessweek. Bloomberg Businessweek. 6 Sept. 2012. Web. 27 Nov. 2012.