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Editor's Note

MOOCs March On

University Business, April 2013

Whether you think they are hype or the next step in the evolution of learning, there’s no question that MOOCs have taken the education world by storm.

Platforms such as Coursera, edX, and UniversityNow offer free courses online to students anywhere, and are continuing to grow. Coursera now has more than 60 partners here and abroad, including École Polytechnique in France, the National University of Singapore, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Meanwhile, edX, a venture cofounded by MIT and Harvard, also announced a number of new international partners, including the Australian National University, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, McGill University in Montreal, and the University of Toronto. To date, edX has more than 700,000 individuals on its platform, who account for more than 900,000 course enrollments.

I caught up with Anant Agarwal, president of edX, at the recent SXSWedu conference in Austin. He told me about a number of edX developments, including an introductory level biology course taught by Eric Lander, who was one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project. “If you want to learn biology, who better than from the man himself?” he said.

Agarwal also discussed an offshoot of the MOOC model that may have some revenue potential. “It’s a business-to-business concept that Armando Fox at UC Berkeley has dubbed SPOC, for Small Private Online Courses. You create a course and license it to a university or an organization or corporation.”

I told him about a comment made by a presenter at one of the SXSWedu sessions earlier in the day: “MOOCs have not necessarily changed the game but they have definitely changed the politics.” Did he agree with that?

“I agree with half of it, which is that they’ve changed politics, but I also believe that they are indeed a game changer,” Agarwal said. “As I’ve said before, I think it is the biggest innovation in education since the printing press. This is all a big experiment and we are all moving very fast, pushing on a number of frontiers. Not all experiments will work, but if we continue making forward progress, it will be a good thing.”

Agarwal is not alone in his assessment. In a survey published by The Chronicle of Higher Education in March, a majority of professors who taught MOOCs concurred. Asked whether they believe MOOCs are worth the hype, 79 percent said they were. (Interestingly, when asked whether they believed students who succeed in their MOOC deserve formal credit from their home institution, 66 percent of the  professors said they did not.)

We want to hear what you think. We've created a page called "State of the MOOC" where you can read all the content we've published on the trend since its inception last year. We invite you to add to the MOOC discussion by commenting on what you’ve read or by submitting your own opinion. Contact Web Editor Kristen Domonell to become part of the debate.