The Coursera effect

udacity-coursera-edxBy Ishan Banerjee

Let us assume a world of universities and colleges.

Then let us assume that there were no standardization in parting the knowledge and even if there were an attempt to standardize, the error variable of this measure is too high.

And now, assume a world with Coursera, Udacity and EdX.

What could such institutions bring which are not already there in the market of educational institutions? No company would hire a Coursera-educated student. The market returns of doing MOOC is too less to be considered seriously.

Sunil is studying Engineering in Madhya Pradesh. There are 220 engineering colleges in Madhya Pradesh. Considering the average teacher to student ratio and average quality of teaching in India, probability would say his returns to education would not include a lot other than a nominal degree. Paralyzed by the education system, he is tied to what he had ‘learnt’ in college.

If you can’t afford good schooling and are not one of ‘taare zameen par’, chances your fate could be somewhat like Sunil. Coursera’s ultimate aim might be to bring home the bacon but if that process allows students like Sunil to get a shot at quality education by professors from MIT, Princeton, Harvard and Berkley, it seems like the right thing to do.

Sounds like a too good to be true, doesn’t it?

At the end of the day, we still have to understand that Coursera’s motive lies in earning profits. Its genius lies in trying to create a free market for higher education by reducing labour and capital costs i.e professor and infrastructure, and introducing economies of scale by teaching tens of thousands of students in a single course. As of now only time can say about its philosophical feasibility.

One might argue that it might put a lot of professors out of jobs but we have to understand that the only professors who lose their jobs are the second rate mediocre ones.  Coursera, EdX, Udacity or any other MOOC can never replace the traditional classroom teaching system. These MOOCs might be able to get a lot of students hooked due to the nature of its costless service but replacing an awe-inspiring traditional classroom teacher? That might be a whole new ballgame.

The employment sector will never hire Sunil for the number of Coursera certificates he has earned but now that he had learned enough, making an impression on his future employer now seems to be much easier.

One of the biggest game changes Coursera and EdX bring into this equation are the discussion forums or peer learning. Students or learners might divide themselves into different groups according to geography or language or pure academic interests. Since there are not enough teaching assistants to help, it is often the case that the peers end up helping each other. The discussions, often take place under the surveillance of the professor himself or the teaching assistants. This system’s biggest achievement is to filter peers and bring people of similar interests together.

It is absolutely amazing to see students from all around the world in the same virtual classroom without any social or economic barriers. It is a dream come true for many. It almost gives you the idea,

‘They cured education!’

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