David Brooks (and Harvard and MIT and Stanford) Get Online Education Right


This week, Harvard joined MIT in a new online education venture, a nonprofit called edX. The two schools have committed $60 million to offering free courses online from their best and brightest faculty members. The first course, which MIT kicked off in March enrolled about 120,000 students. 10,000 of them made through the recent midterm. The courses are not for credit, but do offer certificates of mastery.

Meanwhile, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan are partnering in a for-profit company, Coursera, which has snagged $16 million in venture capital. And Stanford prof Sebastian Thurn boast 200,000 students lined up for the six courses his new company, Udacity, is offering.

New York Times columnist David Brooks comes in for a fair amount of criticism here at Reason. But in today's paper, he gets the future of online education right. As the provision of information and lectures and lab demonstrations become  commodities, the best schools will direct their energies toward figuring out how to help students become better at "the complex social and emotional process" of learning.

What happened to the newspaper and magazine business is about to happen to higher education: a rescrambling around the Web….

The early Web radically democratized culture, but now in the media and elsewhere you're seeing a flight to quality. The best American colleges should be able to establish a magnetic authoritative presence online.

My guess is it will be easier to be a terrible university on the wide-open Web, but it will also be possible for the most committed schools and students to be better than ever.

More Reason on online ed.