Students could soon receive college credit for taking free online courses. Massive Online Open Course platform Coursera is working with accreditation standards institution American Council on Education to evaluate whether its online classes are sufficient for the kinds of college credit awarded in Advanced Placement courses.
Should free online courses be given accreditation, it could dramatically reduce the cost of the first two years of college and release a significant portion of education from the confines of schools. ”Students will have an unprecedented opportunity to obtain recognized credentials for their work,” said Professor William G. Bowen, former President of Princeton University. “This could significantly reduce the costs of higher education for millions of students.”
Coursera is part of a broader educational movement to provide universal access to world-class education by putting lectures and materials from top universities online for free. MIT OpenCourseWare, the pioneer of the system, has seen over 125 million lifetime views. Coursera augments its lectures with interactive forums and peer graders, which it argues are close to the quality of a college teaching assistant.
Despite their success, accredited schools hold a monopoly on the American education system. No matter how competent a student or quality a class, only classes that can be counted for credit are taken seriously. As a result, pretty much everyone has to be funnelled through the traditional classroom.
But if free online courses could be given the recognition of something like Advanced Placement, it would disrupt the very foundation of the education system.
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