Can’t afford to go to Stanford or Yale? Don’t worry, the internet will take you there!

Published: October 2, 2013
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I can register myself for round the year courses from different universities in different fields of study, irrespective of what my ethnicity or nationality is. PHOTO: REUTERS

Internet hype prevails globally and world renowned universities are taking advantage of this by offering education online for free, using Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Universities such as Stanford, MIT and Yale are inviting students to attend their courses without any charges, regardless of any boundaries and these courses are available anytime, anyplace and almost anywhere with internet access.

I can register myself for round the year courses from different universities in different fields of study, irrespective of what my ethnicity or nationality is.

My journey with the MOOC began almost half a year back. I was carrying out a research on cryptography (study of procedures for secure communication) when one of my office colleagues suggested that I should check Coursera (an educational, technology based website offering MOOCs). All I had to do was register myself on the website and create my profile, following which I could browse for courses of my interest.

Luckily, I found one course on cryptography and I attended it from Stanford, via Coursera. After this, the addiction began. So far, I have attended almost ten courses online from the website and it has been an entirely new experience of interacting and learning with the world’s best educators, free of charge.

I did not just restrict myself to Coursera, as there are many other platforms emerging like Alison.com, udemy.com, udacity.com, which are all equally useful. The ease of use is such that you just have to login with your Gmail, Yahoo or Facebook ID and you can follow up on their discussion forums and receive other updates through your email accounts. Whether you want to register for a science subject, school teaching, want to learn French, Arabic or English communication, you can browse through one of the sites and end up learning from the best of professors and experts in the respective fields all around the globe.

I had never even imagined that I would be able to access lectures from Stanford or UC Berkeley and the likes of them; this was a dream come true for me.

I browse through the online lectures with presentations and while watching the videos I can also go through the pop-up quizzes to check if I am actually learning something. I can also have my assignments submitted and graded by tutors and discuss my course issues with a peer sitting somewhere in a completely different part of the world.

The director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation, attended a degree at MIT as a student and said that,

“Until 2012, the only way to get that experience was to be one of the smartest 17-year-old students in the US… to win a very high-stake tournament, to move to Cambridge or MIT, to pay $50,000 and to show up in a building twice a week. Only 300 people could do that.”

Now everyone, regardless of their financial conditions and without taking loans, can attend courses from these universities.

While MOOCs have some positive aspects, Michael Crow, the Arizona State University President, in a discussion, insisted that technology should be used in classrooms to supplement the student’s experience of learning, not replace it. He said that,

“The problem that I have with an over-generalisation of this lightning bolt technology is that we will find ourselves on a trajectory where the rich get face-to-face with professors and everyone else will be taught by some type of robot… the [class] separation will grow deeper.”

With the debate still going on, we should consider technology as a tool to enhance our learning and education system, not a tool to replace it. The benefit I see in online education or MOOC is that I never got to learn cryptography or any other course of my interest for free from anywhere in Pakistan but with access to Stanford courses, and my passion to learn, I have achieved a higher level of understanding.

The debate is not about whether MOOC’s are here to stay or not, the question is whether we would be able to have free and quality education for everyone, everywhere, soon enough? Until then, these Massive Open Online Courses can help us in assisting and satisfying our need to learn more, whilst sitting at home.

Afshan Amin

Afshan Amin

An educational technologist at LUMS, working on introducing learning technologies in class based environment.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.