By Terence Chea
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., (AP) – When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offered its first free online course this spring, Ashwith Rego jumped at the chance to learn from some of the world’s leading researchers – without leaving his home in India.
“I never imagined that I would be taught by professors from MIT, let alone for free,” said the 24-year-old engineer who works in Bangalore.
From Harvard to Stanford, a growing number of elite universities are throwing open their digital doors to the masses. They’re offering their most popular courses online for no charge, allowing anyone with an Internet connection to learn from world-renowned scholars and scientists.
Many colleges have offered Web-based courses for years, but the participation of top-tier research universities marks a major milestone in the expansion of digital learning.
The proliferation of so-called massive open online courses, or MOOCs, has the potential to transform higher education at a time when colleges and universities are grappling with shrinking budgets, rising costs and protests over soaring tuition and student debt.
Supporters say these online courses can lower teaching costs, improve learning online and on campus, and significantly expand access to higher education, which could fuel technological innovation and economic growth.
“It holds the potential for serving many, many hundreds of thousands of students in a way we simply cannot today,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education.
Last month, a dozen major research universities announced they would begin offering courses on the online learning platform Coursera, joining Stanford and Princeton universities and the universities of Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The University of California, Berkeley said it would start making online courses available this fall through edX, a competing Web portal launched in May by Harvard University and MIT with $60 million in funding from the two schools.
“I believe it will ultimately revolutionize education,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.
So far students can’t earn college credit for the courses, but that hasn’t dampened demand.1 2 3 next >>