‘Online Education has officially arrived’ shouts the first line of the plicymic article ‘Online Universities: The future of Elite Education’. Slightly mift that they’ve clearly never come across Superprof before but hey, what can you do.

Seriously, this article is a great read; it pours light on the sudden blossoming of free top-tier standard education (Ivy League, no less) delivered down the wire to anyone with a decent Internet connection in America.

I’ve just been looking at Coursera, the latest parishioner to be welcomed into the brave new world of interactive online education companies growing in popularity across the pond. Co-founded by two associate professors of computer science at Stanford University Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, Coursera has big ambitions: to revolutionise higher education by allowing students from all over the world to log on, sign up, and learn.

It’s not the recorded lectures, endless word docs and links listings that many of us recent school leavers and graduates are so familiar with from our VLE’s – there’s homework to do, exams to sit and grades to be grubbed.

Oh, yes, these are very much full time courses put together by the cream of US academia – and they’re totally free.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are being touted as the next big leap in the democratisation of education that sprang to the fore with the birth of the Internet, and a rival to such prestigious bricks and mortar institutions as Harvard and Yale, who’s ever-rising enrollment fees are getting the goat of cash-strapped students.

Speaking to the New York Times, Ng says: “It will allow people who lack access to world-class learning — because of financial, geographic or time constraints — to have an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

That, I’m down with, but an educational revoloution strong enough to topple the old guard? Not in my opinion.

Is this really a revoloution in ‘Elite Education’, or a watered down version? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for reaching people who’s educational endeavours are put on a leash by the constraints of money, rurality, situation. But the reason Online Universities will never bring down the campus walls is because a University education is so much more than what you learned at University.

It’s the social education thrust upon you by being thrown together with a bunch of other scared feshers, the shared ideas and experiences, the pack mentality of the lecture hall, the being part of something unique. That, and so much more

Technology does have the capacity to offer you virtual versions of all of these things but it can never fully replicate the University experience, the whole package.

And what for those students taking a course who’s hands on, haptic needs are the lifeblood of learning? You can’t light a virtual Bunsen burner, tighten a virtual screw or dissect a virtual frog.

I’m not naïve, I know that it’s the journalists and editors that pit online learning against traditional institutional teaching – it makes for good reading. What I have always said, and what most advocates of online education say is that these two forms of exciting teaching are best used in conjunction with one another; they provide a real opportunity for symbiotic, deep learning.

There are advantages to online learning, there are advantages to institutional learning and by Christ, they both have their pitfalls – but for me they work best as allies in spreading the good word of education.

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