The Free Online Future of Higher Education?

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The digital revolution has led to many societal and cultural changes. Nowadays people tend to use electronic technologies anywhere and anytime. University students take notes on their laptops and on their iPads or tablets, they do research on the web library because the internet is a huge database without limitations, and also a time saver.

More and more websites are opening free online classes called MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), which attract students massively. With web sites offering students the possibility to learn online, their popularity questions the future of higher education. Is this the future of higher education?

The Benefits of Online Courses

Every semester students have to register for their modules, hence everyone goes through the module descriptions and requirements to choose subjects of their interest. No one wants to pay for a module that won't interest them much, as they won't put much effort into it.

When I first arrived at university my tutor told me that most of the modules I wanted to pick were already full, therefore I had to re-plan my schedule. Online modules offer the opportunity for a great number of students to sign up for a single module, with no limitation on room or students. Indeed, according to, "60,000 signed up for Duke's Introduction to Astronomy on Coursera".

This free module is a time saver, as students do not have to attend a lecture, therefore cutting out the commute to university everyday in order to attend a class they wouldn't have paid attention to anyway. Let's be honest, how many of you pay attention to the whole lecture when you're sat in a theatre with hundreds of people talking while the lecture is given? Students are on their phones or laptops doing something else. Online classes can be a great way to save money and travelling time, and students can focus more on the lesson.

The Internet is the future of education. Not

However, many students clearly do not take the classes seriously, with only a few students succeeding in completing it. According to educational researcher Katy Jordan "MOOCs have generated 50,000 enrollments on average, with the typical completion rate hovering below 10". As the course does not require attendance, many students seem to take it for granted and fail to complete it. But the MOOCs won't improve if students do not finish it, as they won't make profit since students pay for a fee to get a degree as well as a placement.

I think that students need to be in the actual classroom environment in order to complete and pass a module. Even if the internet has all the information, lecturers have a passion for the subject they teach and you can learn more from them. The internet is just like books, they are additional tools that can provide extra knowledge on a subject.

Teachers are there to respond to students' questions and spend more time building their courses. They can also update it weekly. Interactions between students and teachers are important because you can learn from them. This is the reason why students pay so much on university fees- lecturers provide quality teaching. Students learn theories that will prove valuable for a job.

Having said that, online education is a viable option for students who are disciplined enough to learn in that environment. Online students must be organized, well prepared, and set in a realistic routine to succeed. Students who are able to work on their own could do very well learning online and might end up liking it even better than a traditional classroom. While there are plenty of distractions involved with online learning, many students thrive in this situation because they are provided with more flexibility and the opportunity to learn as their own pace.

The future of education remains uncertain, but I don't think that free online classes will replace the traditional ones. My belief is that traditional education systems will change to adapt to the web improvements.

Manuela Constantini is a French student currently studying for a degree in Communication Studies at the University of East London. Read more posts by Manuela here.

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