Today education is the most valuable asset one can acquire. Mumbai-born writer Mahtab Narsimhan says: A good education is the greatest gift you can give yourself or anyone else (qtd. in Murphey and Lenskold). And yet, this gift is not so easy to obtain. The US system of education is facing multiple challenges created by the population explosion, economic crisis, rapid development of technology, etc. Among them the rising cost of tuition occupies the first place. Some American citizens continue paying out their student loans even after their own children have gone to college (Selingo 50-52). Undoubtedly, no magic bullet can help improve the situation, but a solution can be worked out by means of looking at what the two leading educational paradigms the traditional one and the digital one (massive open online courses, or MOOCs) have to offer.
The first important aspect to be taken into consideration is the financial side of the problem. In the traditional system of education a student not only has to pay tuition and course fees, but also needs to take care of accommodation, study materials, travel, etc. Online education is rather more cost-effective. MOOCs students can learn from home, which spares them the additional expenses of living on campus premises. Learning from home also provides a benefit of being able to print out all the necessary study materials if needed, without having to buy any paper textbooks. In addition, those who stay in their hometowns find it easier to work on a day-to-day basis and support themselves. Thus, online education offers young Americans more opportunities: they can select the best universities without having to think of additional expenditures connected with traveling to the educational institution of their choice.
Accessibility is another aspect closely connected with the cost-effectiveness of learning. Within the framework of online education, digital materials can be used for any number of students with no time limitations. The flexibility of online learning is underlined by Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, a joint online education project of MIT and Harvard, in his inspiring TED-talk Why massive open online courses (still) matter (2013) where he speaks about self-pacing as an essential feature of MOOCs. Students can pause and rewind lectures. This especially benefits learners struggling with the material, working students or non-native English speakers. Thus, MOOCs can also be used as remedial courses. With these features, students coming from any social background get an opportunity to learn from the celebrated scholars at their own pace which would have been impossible for them within the traditional learning paradigm.
Another essential aspect to be examined is the format of communication between the teacher and the student. The traditional educational system is based on face-to-face interaction which has its obvious benefits and less explicit drawbacks. It offers students a creative aura of the classroom space, the immediate effect of professors charisma, inspiring excitement of live interaction and many other important things which online learning lacks. At the same time, face-to-face communication provides more opportunities for subjective evaluation. Subjective labeling of students can negatively affect their self-esteem and intrinsic learning motivation. Nell Keddies research shows that the teachers expectations precondition the choice of the tasks given to the students as well as the quantity and quality of face-to-face communication with each of them (qtd. in Haralambos & Holborn, 2000, p. 848). Computer-based testing used in online learning eliminates such risks. But it also leaves less space for the personalized feedback.
One more facet of the problem under consideration is the social one: the learning space, the community, the interaction with fellow students. In the traditional educational system students work together with their fellows and actively engage each other in different learning and social activities. Thus, years of study become a kind of a dress rehearsal before beginning to climb the career ladder. During the school and college years, students are taught to be leaders, to work in a team and to employ their emotional intelligence. In her insightful TED-talk, Liz Coleman defines the task of college education as equipping students with the flexibilities of mind, the multiplicity of perspectives, the capacities for collaboration and innovation (Coleman, 2009). Among other things, modern educational institutions foster pro-social behavior and active participation in the political, social and cultural life of the country. Online learning does not provide this kind of social formative background. It is rather an active education-centered pursuit that unites the community of users mainly on the basis of their study interests.
Obviously, online education is not perfect. It is still a very young initiative that needs much more time to develop and improve. The completion rate in average constitutes only around 10% of the students enrolled (Lewin). But it is also flexible, open to change and highly accessible. These features make it possible to suggest cooperation with the traditional educational system. The format of a blended course will combine all the benefits of online learning with inspiration, creative energy and social benefits of face-to-face communication on the campus. It means that more people will be able to listen to inspiring lectures of the leading experts without spending all their savings or running into debt. This game-changing idea will create a future in which everyone will have access to high-quality education.
Agarwal, Anant. Why massive open online courses (Still) matter. TED: Ideas worth spreading, June 2013, www.ted.com/talks/anant_agarwal_why_massively_open_online_courses _still_matter/transcript?language=en#t-527882.
Coleman, Liz. A call to reinvent liberal arts education. TED: Ideas worth spreading, Feb. 2009, www.ted.com/talks/liz_coleman_s_call_to_reinvent_liberal_arts_education /transcript?language=en.
Dweck, Carol. The power of believing that you can improve. TED: Ideas worth spreading, Nov. 2014, www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_ that_you_can_improve.
Haralambos, Michael, and Michael Holborn. Sociology: themes and perspectives. HarperCollins, 2000.
Lewin, Tamar. "Universities Abroad Join Partnerships on the Web." The New York Times. 20 Feb. 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/21/education/universities-abroad-join-mooc-course-projects.html.
Murphey, Casey, and Jenna Lenskold. Education: The Greatest Gift. Global Campaign For Education, 4 Dec. 2012, campaignforeducationusa.org/blog/detail/education-the-greatest-gift..
Selingo, Jeffrey J. College (Un)Bound: the future of higher education and what it means for students. New Harvest, 2013.
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