Connecting the Dots in Online Learning

My last online learning post was prompted by news about the launch of edX. Since that time, this continues to be a hot topic. At the end of the last post, I posed a few questions. It’s time to revisit those questions:

Is edX truly an altruistic venture, or will it begin to generate revenue at some point (e.g., through advertising, selling lists, etc.)?
A great article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Inside the Coursera Contract: How an Upstart Company Might Profit From Free Courses,” tackles this one. In fact, I’ll just leave you to read about the eight possible business models mentioned in Coursera’s contract with University of Michigan.

Will the platform take off? If so, who will use it?
Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng co-taught a class on artificial intelligence (AI) last year. According to Reuters, 104,000 people enrolled in the class, nearly 25,000 completed most of the work, and 13,000 scored high enough to earn a statement of accomplishment.  Many of these classes are just getting off the ground; it will be interesting to see what the enrollment and completion numbers look like once these courses lose a bit of their novelty. I’d also like to see additional information about who’s taking these courses.

Will users really learn via edX, and how will they know when they’ve mastered a subject?
Earlier this month, the University of Wisconsin System announced plans to create a flexible online degree program. This announcement wasn’t too ground-breaking, except for one feature: students will be able to earn credits by testing out of specific competencies, including things they’ve learned in other learning environments (via Coursera, edX, at another school, or at work):

The flexible diploma is meant to translate past online and classroom coursework along with work experience into UW college credits that could be combined with additional online learning to complete a degree. The program also is being designed to tap existing online courses at UW and other universities around the world. The online courses would for the first time be broken down into smaller learning units. Students would be tested on each unit independently and at their own pace. (Source: University of Wisconsin System)

Most new online learning platforms aren’t equipped or accredited to grant certifications and degrees; traditional colleges and universities are. I’d be surprised if more colleges and universities didn’t scramble to adopt this approach soon.