Is Online Education the Way Of the Future? Some Sci Fi Writers Think So

While science fiction is not entirely fiction, and much of what great writers such as H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov and others predicted has come true, the case of online education is not so simple. In this interview a few years ago, Asimov predicted that self-directed learning will soon be the norm, citing Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCS) as the future of education. I would argue that this is not the case. The good old university system, with its brick and mortar  infrastructure, will still remain.

That being said, I am actually registered in two courses on a website, which is part of the “Massive Open Online Courses,” (MOOC) system, so-called because they are free and online, and offered by some of the best-known universities in the world. With Stanford University, Duke university and others joining in, a classroom of 90,000 people is not unheard of. With this scale, and a free education and certification at the end of the process, does this mean the end of traditional university as we know it?

The answer is unclear, due to the current strengths of the university and the current weaknesses of online classes.

Firstly, the university system as we know it today is very old — more than 1,00 years old, with Al-Azhar University dating back to 988 A.D. Common sense dictates that if something has survived so long, it is for a good reason, and it is unlikely to be discarded so fast, especially with such a complex institution as the university.

Secondly, the learning model that online courses offer is not amenable to learning for all levels of students. Further, the quality of interaction and learning is suspect. While each one of us learns differently, the general notion of learning — by critically reflecting, asking questions and discussing and debating with others — does not really exist online as it does in a real life classroom setting. This gives the traditional system an edge, that is not present in the online model.

In defense of MOOCS, Asimov says, "Nowadays, what people call learning is forced on you. Everyone is forced to learn the same thing on the same day at the same speed in class. And everyone is different. For some it goes too fast, for some too slow, for some in the wrong direction.” While this cannot be discounted, the attention that each student gets in a classroom cannot be matched in an online model.

Still, online education is not yet recognized in the same way as "regular" education. The credibility of a degree from Phoenix University is not the same as that from a regular university, many would argue. It will take years, perhaps, for the MOOCS to gain as much credibility as a regular university.

It cannot be denied that the world of education is changing. The way that all of us are getting information,  knowledge and ideas is increasingly shifting to an online base. This is a result of the online, information revolution, which is in some ways global (barring those remote places which don’t have internet access).  

No matter whether we believe in them or not, MOOCS are here to stay. Will the market shake up their model and remove them from the scene, like any other start-up, or will they evolve into more stable forms? We may not know for sure, but what we do know is that there are thousands and thousands of students signing up for these courses, and that is a fact we should not ignore when debating about their success or failure.  

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Sabith Khan

Sabith Khan is a social entrepreneur, researcher and founder of MENASA, a think-tank and policy shop engaged in issues related to MENA and South Asia. Sabith has worked for several years in the field of strategic communications, public affairs and nonprofit management, trying to understand and communicate issues pertaining to civil society, development and youth in the US and MENA region. Sabith has worked with several large global public affairs firms, on award-winning campaigns in healthcare, entertainment and government relations. During his stint at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, he ideated and executed a global award-winning campaign for Apollo Hospitals (Abby and Clio Awards). He has also worked in the Middle East managing accounts as diverse as Dubai Film Festival, Mohammed bin Rashid Foundation, Dubai International Film Festival, Dubai School of Government. Most recently, he served as the Executive Director of Muslim Public Service Network in Washington D.C, an NGO that engages and inspires young American Muslims to do public service. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Planning Governance and Globalization at Virginia Tech. He has been involved as a team member and leader in several international development projects including consulting for the Near East Foundation, in helping set up their Monitoring and Evaluation system for their offices across the MENA region. Sabith has a Master of Public administration and a Master of Arts in International Relations from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. In Summer 2013, he conducted research on American Muslim philanthropy at the Lilly School of Philanthropy, Indianapolis, in an attempt to map giving behavior among Muslims over the last ten years i.e., 2002- 2012. Sabith’s research interests include Religion and Philanthropy, Youth issues in USA, Middle East North Africa and South Asia, Governance and Civil Society. Sabith is also the co-editor of Millennials Speak: Essays on the 21st century, a snapshot of the ideas and opinions of the global Millennial Generation. Twenty writers from five continents, a diverse mix of young academics, policy professionals, and future thought and creative leaders, cover topics from the legacy of the Arab Spring, the global food system, the U.S. student loan crisis, youth unemployment, to popular culture. Currently working: Founder and Executive Director, MENASA Publications: 1. Humanitarian Aid and Faith-Based Giving: The Potential of Muslim Charity - Unrest Magazine, George Mason University. May 2013. Accessible at http://www.unrestmag.com/about-unrest/past-issues/#sthash.GEqNfv0U.dpuf 2. Arab American Diaspora and American Muslim Philanthropy: impact of crisis situations on mobilization and formation of a “community.” American University in Cairo Press. Cairo. (NP). Expected Fall 2013. 3. Middle-East Peace Talks 2010: Investigating the Role of Lobbying and Advocacy Groups in Washington, D.C. as Spoilers. Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Spring 2011. Accessible at : http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/parcc/Research/intrastate/Spoilers_of_Peace_Project/ Blog: www.sabithkhan.wordpress.com

MORE FROM

The 'RuPaul's Drag Race' finale format change just saved the show from predictability

Predictability seized the last few seasons of 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' but season nine's finale flipped the script.

Journalist Kevin Powell sues 'All Eyez on Me' filmmakers, claims they stole from his Tupac articles

More bad news for the embattled Tupac Shakur biopic.

Who won 'RuPaul's Drag Race' season 9?

A lip-sync battle tournament leads to a surprising winner.

Halsey just started a feud with Iggy Azalea

The pop singer thinks Azalea is a "fucking moron."

'Game of Thrones' author George R.R. Martin has a new TV show in the works

An early, gory novella from Martin is heading to Syfy.

The 'Will and Grace' revival will lay out the "rules" in the premiere

Series creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan are addressing that pesky finale

The 'RuPaul's Drag Race' finale format change just saved the show from predictability

Predictability seized the last few seasons of 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' but season nine's finale flipped the script.

Journalist Kevin Powell sues 'All Eyez on Me' filmmakers, claims they stole from his Tupac articles

More bad news for the embattled Tupac Shakur biopic.

Who won 'RuPaul's Drag Race' season 9?

A lip-sync battle tournament leads to a surprising winner.

Halsey just started a feud with Iggy Azalea

The pop singer thinks Azalea is a "fucking moron."

'Game of Thrones' author George R.R. Martin has a new TV show in the works

An early, gory novella from Martin is heading to Syfy.

The 'Will and Grace' revival will lay out the "rules" in the premiere

Series creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan are addressing that pesky finale