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More Clicks, Fewer Bricks: The Lecture Hall Is Obsolete

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  • The Democratization Argument

    Clip: Anant Agarwal and Ben Nelson advocate for the accessibility of college courses online. Jonathan Cole and Rebecca Schuman counter that MOOC participants tend not to be college-age students seeking a degree.

  • Has the University System Failed?

    Clip: Jonathan Cole and Rebecca Schuman argue against Anant Agarwal and Ben Nelson whether or not technology can deliver on the promise of providing university-level education to the masses through MOOCs.

Debate Details

Is the college of the future online? With the popularity of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and the availability of online degree programs at a fraction of their on-campus price, we are experiencing an exciting experiment in higher education. Does the traditional classroom stand a chance? Will online education be the great equalizer, or is a campus-based college experience still necessary?

The Debaters

For the motion

Anant Agarwal

CEO, edX & Professor, MIT

Anant Agarwal is the CEO of edX, an online learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT. He taught the first edX course on circuits and electronics... Read More

Ben Nelson

Founder and CEO, Minerva Project

Ben Nelson is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Minerva Project, a reinvented university experience for the brightest and most motivated students... Read More

Against the motion

Jonathan Cole

Provost and Dean Emeritus, Columbia University

Jonathan R. Cole is John Mitchell Mason Professor at Columbia University, where he served as provost and dean of faculties (1989-2003) and vice president... Read More

Rebecca Schuman

Columnist, Slate and Chronicle of Higher Education

Rebecca Schuman, Ph.D. is a writer, speaker, adjunct professor, and activist on behalf of adjunct and contingent faculty in the United States. She... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • Online education will modernize our academic institutions, which have relied on the same stagnant model for centuries.
  • MOOCs have the potential to democratize and equalize education at a global level, breaking down financial, social, and physical barriers to entry.
  • The internet provides spaces and tools that are far less costly and far more innovative than what the traditional classroom is able to offer and accommodate.
Against The Motion
  • Online education cannot adequately supply the invaluable elements of the traditional classroom—direct interaction, guidance, accountability, and community building.
  • To enroll in online classes, students must already have access to computers and high speed internet. Rather than democratizing higher education, MOOCs reinforce educational barriers.
  • With its disparate accreditation systems and tenuous financial model, online education is not a sustainable replacement for brick-and-mortar institutions.

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The Research

The Research

The Crisis in Higher Education

Nicholas Carr
September 27, 2012

Online versions of college courses are attracting hundreds of thousands of students, millions of dollars in funding, and accolades from university administrators. Is this a fad, or is higher education about to get the overhaul it needs?

The Revolution Is Not Being MOOC-ized

Gayle Christensen and Brandon Alcorn
March 16, 2014

Ultimately, MOOCs are not by themselves a mechanism for development but require certain levels of education and technology.

Revolution Hits the Universities

Thomas Friedman
January 26, 2013

Nothing has more potential to enable us to reimagine higher education than the massive open online course, or MOOC.

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