Cracking the MOOC Code – Georgia Tech’s Master(s) Plan

In Tamar Lewin’s  recent article in The New York Times, it was reported that Georgia Tech has teamed up with Udacity, a for-profit MOOC, to offer a master’s degree in computer science starting in January 2014. The $6,600 cost will be a fraction of the $45,000 on-campus charge, and is expected to draw as many as 10,000 students per year from around the world when it is fully rolled out.

Here’s how the resources and revenue break out – Content and faculty will be provided by Georgia Tech, and Udacity will provide the technology platform and course assistants. Georgia Tech will receive 60 percent of the revenue with Udacity taking the other 40 percent.

And while not the free education that has received the headlines such as MOOCS like Udacity, Coursera  and edX have enjoyed over the last 18 months, this model is a big step towards potentially opening up much needed STEM programs, such as computer science — to tens of thousands of students who previously didn’t have the time, money or ability to commit to a campus-based program. And the very same program is open up to anyone for free, who doesn’t need the validation that a degree proffers.

Dr. S. James Gates Jr., a University of Maryland physicist who serves on President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said, “This is the first deliberate and thoughtful attempt to apply education technology to bringing instruction to scale. It could be epoch-making. If it really works, it could begin the process of lowering the cost of education, and lowering barriers for millions of Americans.”

“… Leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today—especially in science, technology, engineering and math.”

— President Barack Obama, September 16, 2010

The beauty of this model is that it uses the scale of the internet to take content and make it available in a virtual environment. It was only a matter of time before the initial single course offerings morphed into low cost degree programs. AT&T is giving us a glimpse of how the corporate world is thinking about this in the future by providing $2 million in backing for the initial rollout. They plan to use the program to train employees and find potential hires –  an interesting blend of employee enrichment and recruiting tool.

Richard DeMillo, is director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Tech, and a distinguished professor in the College of Computing.  In a recent interview he made some interesting and provocative comments about the future of higher education, “You have to have a reason to ask students to pay more than the marginal costs of delivering education. And with all these revolutions in technology for course delivery, that marginal cost is going to zero very, very quickly. So, every institution that’s going to survive, I think, over the next 50 years, is going to have to make that case. Why is it that tuition at this institution is justified?”.

DeMillo goes on to explain, “The accrediting agencies, which I think traditionally, have had — at least for the last 120 years or so—an institutional focus, are now shifting their focus to students; to competencies, to demonstrations of what students know. And that really starts to cut against institutional entitlement. The inevitability of this is that over the next 25, 30, 40 years … what I call the “Me-Too institutions,” I think, will disappear. The brand-name institutions that can command higher tuitions will get larger and more diversified in the student populations that they serve. And you’ll find that you move to a long-tail world in which many, many more institutions that don’t exist today, or only exist in their current form, will spring up because the current cost of starting a new institution is becoming very small.”

Think about that. In a very short period of time, it has been shown that a degree that costs $45,000 currently can be delivered at a seventh of that cost and the knowledge, without any certification,  gained in that course can be had for nothing.  It remains to be seen if students achieve similar outcomes in the online world with thousands of students being taught at the same time but it’s a good bet that someone will crack the code to how to provide those outcomes at a low cost.

And when that happens, the world of higher education will never be the same.

Steve Lesser, VP Sales and Marketing | Software Secure

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