The New York Times has a useful article today on MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses. Reporter Alan Finder points out that online education has been around in one form or another for a decade. What’s different today is the rise of the MOOCs; the article walks through the three leading MOOC providers – EdX, Coursera, and Udacity – and describes how each works and the important differences between them. One day, I’m pretty sure, online education in various forms – through MOOCs, or in combination with traditional classrooms, or other ways yet to emerge – will be a genuine alternative for both educational content and higher education credential. For many reasons, however, that day is still a ways off. So I’m interested in asking what the value of online education is today – its value for an undergraduate currently in school, not waiting for institutional changes in higher education itself, at the level of the whole system.
If an undergraduate doesn’t plan on going on to further graduate or professional education – for which GPA matters – then one might be able to take classes for their practical, real world educational value, even if one’s GPA suffers (because, after all, a reason to take these courses in a terminal degree program is that one is relatively, somewhat less worried about the signal, but instead seeks the content, which means deliberately choosing courses where one has little background knowledge, at least by comparison to other students who, looking to protect GPA, only take classes for which they are already well-prepared). GPA matters in the real world more than one might think, especially in the early years of competing in the real world, especially for liberal arts majors looking for work in a tough environment: GPA matters because one is competing [...]