Friday, May 25, 2012

Should You Attend an Online University?

The Democratizing Forces of Online Universities

Blogging democratized the news industry; has the increase in online learning platforms democratized the education industry? With the proliferation of free and low-cost online educational tools, learners unlikely to attend a traditional four-year college now have greater access to education.

Free and low-cost educational platforms such as "Online Schools" now dominate the online educational market. Coursera, a platform that allows you to take classes from accredited and well-respected colleges across the nation, including Stanford, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, has attracted investors across the United States. TED-Ed, an educational alliance created by TEDTalks, allows users to access lectures and lessons on a variety of subjects, from the arts to science and technology. Udemy, a new startup venture, further democratizes the learning process by allowing users to post their own lesson plans. Because of the availability of user-generated content, Udemy functions more as a community skillshare than a classroom.

Online classes and non-degree educational platforms democratize the entire learning process. First, online classes and educational platforms are generally available for free, low-cost or at a rate drastically reduced from classroom learning prices. This allows a greater number of people to access information. According to a recent Seattle Times article, the cost of attending a four-year college rose by 300% from 1990-2011. This escalating cost has led to an “education bubble,” where graduating seniors are saddled with debt that they can no longer afford to pay back. The democratizing forces of online schooling allow students who are unable or unwilling to take out federal or private loans to access training without taking on exorbitant debts.

Secondly, because platforms like Udemy allow users to upload their own videos, lesson plans and PowerPoint presentations, a wider variety of information is available to interested parties. Classes in business are positioned next to classes in technology, history, mechanics and engineering. So online learning even democratizes the former hierarchical structure of subject matter that is available to college students.

Because online education is available on demand, at all hours of the day or night anywhere in the world, students who would not have had access to traditional American college campuses are engaging in exchanges of ideas. For instance, MITx, a new initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, allows a fluid exchange of ideas between MIT students and engineers of all nationalities and age ranges. Additionally, learners who work full time jobs and have families can now access educational platforms in their spare time.

According to the New York Times, online education has even democratized what students value in education. Big name professors or large, well-stocked libraries are no longer a draw for online learners. Instead, accessibility, quick response time and availability of technical support have all increased student registration and retention rates. These services can be provided by online educational platforms at a fraction of the cost of celebrity professors or rare books.

Though stalwarts of four-year colleges may consider online educational platforms secondary to a traditional college campus experience, many online learners disagree. With free or low-cost training and education available to a wide variety of learners across all age ranges and nationalities, online educational platforms have, and will continue to, democratize the educational process.

- Estelle Shumann

"We only truly learn when the future has become history; when we're leaping forward, turning mistakes into achievements."   ~ Anonymous