Today MIT and Harvard announced a partnership to offer free online, college-level courses under a joint superbrand known as edX. "Anyone with an Internet connection anywhere in the world can have access’’ said Harvard president, Drew Faust.
Princeton University, Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and University of Pennsylvania are already providing free online education through Coursera, offering lectures, interactive assessments and even live discussion sessions on a number of topics.
Will this change the face of education globally?
Yes, after 15 years in adult education, 8 of those in online education, I can certainly say that online learning has finally been accepted by traditional academia as a legitimate and powerful mode of learning (they were kicking and screaming the entire time). It is no longer seen as a "compromise" to live, in class learning but a fundamental, integral and now essential part of the learning experience. E-learning will flatten the earth, give access to those who don't have brick and mortar schools due to depressed economic environments, the military will now not be left behind and the disabled will all have equal access. Too bad our country does not support public education with this same fervor. Two inalienable rights: access to education and healthcare for all.
I also add to your list Udacity, where several professors from Stanford are now involved. I think it would be interesting to analyze what has been happening in e-learning since the last year. It is not a mere evolution of the education system, rather it's tightly linked with entrepreneurship. As an example, Udacity is an online startup, and well known professors, such as Sebastian Thrun in robotics, have given up their academic positions to join these startups.
I've attended some of these courses, and I must confess they're pretty good. Still, my feeling is that they're somehow too generic, not so advanced, and targeted to attract a huge community, which is something you need to do if you want to convince investors. As an example, the machine learning course by Andrew Ng on Coursera is rather simple wrt a normal one. Since most of these classes are free up to now, I think that in the short-term they will introduce premium contents and courses by paying extra fees. This might be an advantage for investors and for professors, which will directly get an income based on their classes, but I hope this won't lower the average complexity level of academic courses, in order to keep a huge amount of students registered.
This process, as cool as it sound for the individual user (and in fact is, like the availability of inspirational talks and speakers in webcasts, one for all TED...), on a macroeconomic level brings back memories of the culture revolution of the late 60's/early 70's: easier access to cheaper superior education, eventually triggered a massification of culture where Degrees were suddenly worth nothing (ask the medical community that graduated in Italy in the 80's/90's).
While that process was partly organic, historic and involved a strong democratization component, this one seems to be more driven from the top, and I wonder -also as the father of someone who will hopefully attend college 10 years from now- what the plan of the highest educational institutions for segmentation at the top is, and if there is one.
Yes. I think all of us want to know what the Academic Ivory Tower has in store for the next generation.