Face-to-Face Instruction Trumps Online Classes Any Day

Sixty universities have already agreed to offer classes through Coursera, including prestigious Ivy Leagues like Brown, Columbia and Princeton. These universities, however, do not receive any revenue from offering content online because there are no enrollment fees. E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University, admitted in a New York Times article from last July that he was concerned with this financial model, but also felt it would reflect badly upon OSU to not join Coursera, since so many prominent colleges had already signed up.

As a means of gaining revenue, Coursera announced it will sell certificates to those who complete its courses. In this pilot program, users’ identities will be confirmed via the patterns and rhythms of their keystrokes. Users will also have to pay a single fee up front to receive a certificate confirming completion of the course. Although this does provide a possible means of revenue, it is doubtful people will find it fruitful to bother achieving certification.

Attrition rates for these online courses are already high — around 90 percent of students who register never complete the classes. Of those that continue, only a smaller portion will pay for certification, while the remaining percentage learn for leisure. Students would only pay for these certificates if employers found them to be legitimate, but growing evidence shows online classes fail to prepare students as well as in-person classes.

A five-year study of Washington state community colleges found that students who enrolled in online classes were more likely to fail or withdraw from them, less likely to return to school in subsequent terms and less likely to transfer to a four-year institution. More studies may be necessary to conclude the same for Coursera, but if the results are the same, these online courses will continue to have less legitimacy in the eyes of employers.

Another potential means of revenue for universities is to license their own lectures and have other colleges pay to use them. This may be feasible financially, but academically, it sounds awful. Who would want to pay money to attend a university to only be told to go online and watch some YouTube videos instead? At the very worst, this could encourage universities to not develop their own courses and rely on other universities to develop content.

MOOCs do offer a promising dream of expanding educational reach to the less fortunate members of society, but they fail to create an adequate system to compensate professors and universities that create this content. The Internet is surely the way forward. However, in the realm of education, nothing beats face-to-face interaction.