Questions and thoughts about free online education for all

In January, I blogged about free online education for all provided by the Khan Academy.  Three months on, more websites joined the “free online education for all” model. To name two: Coursera and Udacity.     Here are two questions and my thoughts on this model.

Question one:  Online deliver and face to face, which one is better?

Online education is different from traditional face-to-face education.   They meet different needs and markets.

Assuming a student spends one year studying the same subject with the same lecturer, I think that distance learning cannot achieve as much as face-to-face learning.   It explains that an Open University online course is much longer than one taught face-to-face.

What are the advantages of online education then? The obvious one is that online education provides opportunities for people who are not able to physically be in the classroom.   In addition, unlike traditional education which is limited by the size of a lecture room, online education can reach mass audience.  This BBC click video claims that “”Khan Academy reaches more students in a single week than Open University has in its entire history”.

Apparently it is not a question of one or the other.  It’s a question how to enable them to complement each other.   Hence many universities offer blended learning courses: a combination of face-to-face and online delivery method.

Question two: Is the free online education for all model sustainable?

This may depend on the learners, instructors and financial support.

  • how much do learners value a course ?
  • how much effort does an instructor need to put into a course ?
  • how much financial support can a course providers receive ?

The first two points are quite straightforward.  The third point is important as the free online education for all model does cost money, e.g. setting up an online platform, instructors’ time, etc.

The financial support can be from governments or charitable organisations.  It can also from advertising revenue if a course can attract a large number of participants.  No matter where the financial support is from, I do hope that the “free online education for all” model can be sustained.  Although this model may not provide as high quality education as face-to-face education, it does provide a great opportunity for people to learn from some brilliant experts around the world.

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