Open Learning and the Future of Higher Education

Is a game-changing revolution afoot in higher education? The global demand for a highly educated work force continues to grow, yet many students are finding it increasingly difficult to afford the cost of obtaining a college degree. Total student loan debt in the United States now surpasses credit card debt nationwide. Questions of access and equity in higher education appear daily in news coverage, political discussion, and public debate. 

With the ubiquity of high-speed Internet and wireless mobile technology, colleges and universities are beginning to explore the potential of massive open online courses—better known as MOOCs—to address these issues. Our nation's colleges and universities play a vital role in discovery and creating new knowledge, developing biomedical and technological innovations, fostering new lines of inquiry in the sciences, arts and humanities, while passing on our social and scientific heritage through direct instruction of students in the classroom. The evolution of high-quality massive online learning that can be delivered at a low cost per student presents both exciting opportunities and challenging questions for higher education.

Can colleges and universities effectively pursue massive online learning while maintaining their core academic missions? Issues surrounding the quality of courses, their cost effectiveness, student learning outcomes, credentialing, and equal access to education have provoked a spirited and evolving international debate. Who will be the winners and losers in the world of massive online learning—or might this be a win-win situation for everyone?

A Math Classroom, Without Walls