Saturday, November 17, 2012

Online education

The latest craze in education seems to be online education. Several startups focused in this area. Some of these are the so-called MOOCs (massively open online courses).

A list of the ones i know currently are

  • 2U : This is not a MOOC; rather it provides live interaction with the instructors.  Just that the students do not need to be in the same geographical location as the instructor. The cost is comparable to the cost of sitting in a real classroom. 
  • Minerva Project; This is not a MOOC again. 
  • UniversityNOW: They charge a flat fee per month and in return you can take as many courses as you want. They provide the textbooks as well as access to the faculty. Could not access the list of courses offered. 
  • edX; This is a MOOC but not many courses offered at the site. 
  • MIT OpenCourseware : Many of the courses taught at MIT available at this site. Some of them also have video recordings. Did see a few courses on basic programming, SaaS etc. 
  • CodeAcademy : Focused on teaching people how to code. 
  • Coursera; They have a large number of courses.
  • Udacity : Lots of courses with video recordings and lectures available here. 
  • Udemy: The choices of courses seems quite varied at this site. 
  • Khan Academy : Different topics are addressed here. 
Update on Jan 1st: Added a few more links below

Now along with the above efforts at online education we are also seeing efforts towards keeping the students honest. This involves use of tools such as computer webcams to monitor students, browser lockdowns to prevent access to any other sites when taking tests online, keystroke pattern recognition software to detect when a different person is answering questions online, plagiarism detection software etc.  I am not optimistic about these efforts at all. I would definitely not invest in any such efforts since they do not achieve their objectives. 

In fact I believe that the efforts towards keeping students honest are missing the point. The point of online education should be to democratize education making it easier for people to understand concepts since they can do so at their own pace. These online tools should not focus on awarding certificates. 

These online tools could be used by the "brick and mortar" universities or organizations to complement the teaching/training activities. And of course these could also be used by groups of students to ensure that the students go to the next level in terms of understanding the concepts. And these MOOCs can tie up with the Prometrics of the world to deliver exams and verify the skills for those students who are willing to pay extra to be certified.