The MOOC Revolution

What’s a MOOC?

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. There are hundreds of them available, from Archeology to Biostatistics to Zoology. Twenty or thirty elite institutions offer them now, from MIT to Johns Hopkins to UC Berkeley. They’re free of charge, and if you have Internet access you can study just about anything.

It’s one more example of how Information Technology is revolutionizing our world. And the revolution can’t come too soon. A four-year residential undergraduate degree costs about $100 thousand per year. (Never mind that the price is a lot lower than this for most families–that’s the cost, whether it’s partially covered by government subsidies, alumni donations or an endowment.)

With some 20 million college students in the US, we simply cannot afford as a society to devote $2 trillion, or 7% of the economy, to this iconic ideal. MOOCs allow us the flexibility necessary to equip future workers with the skills they need without the administrative overhead, residential expenses, and non-educational extras that drive up college costs.

Offering classes online has its challenges: test security, academic integrity, and other issues. But an institution could offer advanced placement tests to admittees that have MOOC certificates, which could cut the time required to earn a degree in half. And they could "invert" the classroom, assigning lectures as homework and using class time for projects and tutorials, reducing costs even further.

At this point MOOC providers Coursera and EdX are free for participants, with some institutions charging a nominal fee for a certificate of course completion. The platform’s developers are working to get the product right before trying to monetize it. It a lot of ways, it’s like the early days of Facebook. But unlike Facebook, no one would say that you’re wasting your time when you log on.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
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