Suddenly, in the past few months, the Ivies are in heat wrt online educational access online. This switch is breathtaking and discomfitting. The pedagogies they are employing for 'online course delivery' are crude and far below the standards of traditional distance education or even courseware. This worries me because the results will likey be massive drop outs and potential black-eyes for the field of online education, which does not deserve bad press given the decades of investment in research of effective online pedagogical design.
The fact that the top brands are rushing to offer free courses is curious: why now? have they just discovered that education is not uniformly and globally available? Why their sudden embrace of global educational goodwill while protecting their brand. Will they lay their brand on the line? Of course not. So what is really going on? I do not know. Brand dilution is a huge fear for these name brand U's. Yet the chances of failure with Coursera and (A)udacity are significant given the lack of thought or investment in good pedagogy.
Yes, there is a huge problem of educational access worldwide, and online education---even, or especially, free online education can help to address it.
But Coursera and Udacity are acting as if was they who discovered this problem, and that they have invented the solution.
Distance education has been around for much of the 20th century, and online education is a new paradigm pedagogy to address Knowledge Society needs, world wide. Both approaches have significant practical experience and research evidence to support good pedagogy and effective learning.
Yes, free courses will be part of the solution. But the solution will require solid and effective pedagogies, and a serious consideration and study of how to design and implment mass course delivery online. Credit? non-credit? Free? What is the student's access to the professor?
And how do we retain the learning and knowledge building, and not simply 'deliver' the information to the students.
What is the gain for the students? credentials? What is the gain for the university? free courses? no credentialing?