Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC's) are an emerging form of online education used by students and professors worldwide.
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Last night, as I was having a drink with some new friends, I saw why online education has yet to disrupt the Hilltop, and probably won’t for the foreseeable future.

Sitting and talking with other interns in D.C. for the summer, from Harvard, Vanderbilt, Brown, Georgetown and Bowdoin, I saw that they were all interested in politics or business in some form. Although they worked in different places, most had met through their common residence in George Washington University housing, which serves as a networking hub for ambitious college students during the summer months.

These sorts of interactions during the summer or the school year, which most of us take for granted, set top universities like Georgetown apart from the others. The utilitarian transfer of information that online education offers simply can’t match this because it provides no chances for networking with employers or socializing with our peers who will go on to be both lifelong friends and valuable professional contacts.

Take, for example, the School of Foreign Service, one of Georgetown’s strongest areas of competitive advantage in the marketplace. From an apartment in Iowa (no offense to any readers from Iowa), you could watch lectures by the most prominent professors, complete all the assignments and emerge with a truly advanced knowledge of international affairs.

But living on campus in Washington with hundreds of other ambitious future diplomats, building personal relationships with professors and working internships at think tanks or government agencies are what add actual value to Georgetown’s exorbitant tuition prices.

So far, online education has not been able to automate this social aspect of a top-tier college education.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have great potential to democratize education on a large scale and provide opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn’t have the access. However, they have yet to fully deliver on this promise. According to a recent survey by edX, MOOC students in the United States had a median age of 31 and 70 percent already had at least a Bachelor’s degree.

On the other hand, Georgetown has succeeded spectacularly thus far in using MOOCs as essentially content-filled advertisements.

This has been great for the two following reasons. First, they have near-zero marginal costs after the up-front investment of recording lectures and material, and second, they can differentiate the university in its areas of expertise.

Of the five current offerings from the university on edX, three highlight areas of expertise generally associated with Georgetown: “Globalization’s Winners and Losers,” “Terrorism and Counterterrorism” and “Introduction to Bioethics.” The university has been able to better showcase its areas of competitive advantage without actually awarding degrees or other credentials through the online market.

Additionally, Georgetown has done a great job of positioning itself among the market leaders of online education. The following passage from a recent New York Times article illustrates its status as a forerunner: “EdX, of which Harvard was a co-founder with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, counts Dartmouth and Georgetown among its charter members.”

Some of you might remember the “Exploring College Options” information session tour from high school, hosted by Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn and Stanford. I’d argue that this information session, with its glossy postcards bearing the logos of all five host schools, serves an almost identical purpose as it positions Georgetown in the upper echelon in higher education.

Georgetown would do well to continue to boost its brand with updated MOOC offerings in areas of competitive advantage (international affairs, law, business, etc.) while investing in the aspects of its in-person degree programs which have made it immune to disruption so far.

IMG_5445Paul Healy is a rising senior in the College. Hoya Sapiens appears every other Thursday at thehoya.com

One Comment

  1. Tyler Simpson says:

    Sure, there’s value in the face-to-face interactions of campus life and no, higher education isn’t about to go entirely digital. But the part of your education to be disrupted by MOOCs isn’t physical presence, it’s your professors.

    I’ve had some truly wonderful professors at Georgetown, but I’ve also had many that were just plain awful and/or useless. While teaching ability is one thing, some of them don’t even view the instruction of undergraduates as worthy of their time or an important part of their job. If what they have to offer is really so valuable, then why do so many have to mandate attendance or ban laptops in class? As for the ones that don’t, why do you see the students who bother to show up browsing Facebook or doing online shopping until they’re finally dismissed?

    Now, why would you pay an exorbitant amount of money (around $200 per hour) to tolerate these people when you have the alternative of listening to the world’s leading expert on a subject for a much lower cost or even for free? Neither course evaluations nor reviews on websites like RateMyProfessor appear to have much effect on who teaches what. Maybe MOOCs will.

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