Are online degrees replacing brick and mortar universities?

It is a question not unlike the one about ebooks and paperbacks or hardcovers, but on a bigger and more expensive scale. While some may argue what is traditional may never die, some will say it is inevitable as we advance.

Back in 2000, Columbia University was one of the first to venture into online education. Unfortunately, it never took off; shutting down just three years later. But following the birth of Youtube, Blogs and various forms of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course), it is not surprising to find individuals turning to the internet for self development. From learning how to play the piano to gaining certified qualifications, it seems as though the internet has expanded the boundaries of gaining knowledge, breaking barriers and limitations. However, before we ask if this surge of online learning will replace good old fashioned classrooms, we must understand what sets this resurrection different from the one before.

It seems as though the failed attempt helped other institutions realize the untapped potential of the internet. According to Washington Post, in 2010, reputable universities decided to place their courses online through Coursera, U2 and edX, effectively legitimizing virtual education.

While it is impossible to predict when brick and mortar universities might disappear completely, it is apparent in the trends of online shopping, banking and various necessary services migrating onto the internet that it is the next logical evolutionary step.

Already schools have begun digitalizing their classrooms; with learning materials available for download through a portal, assignments to be uploaded through an anti-plagiarism system and lecturers who are readily available through messaging applications, emails or even video calls. To shift the entire education system online would most likely bring expenses down as there would be no need for a physical facilities, salaried lecturers or tutors. Thus making education widely available and affordable, which is why MOOCs are such a hit.

Perhaps the question we should be asking is why haven’t traditional learning become obsolete?

While many go to university for higher education, it is no secret that there are some are also hoping to experience campus life. The interactive community built for independent learning is desirable not only for the socializing prospects, the promised exposure to cultures from all over the globe, but as a sort of last huzzah before being thrust into the working society. Although it might not be a luxury everyone can afford, for those who are capable, it might feel like a deprivation of this opportunity if campuses are abolished.

Back in 2013, The Minerva Project reportedly aimed to “create mini-campuses around the globe where clusters of its students will live and socialize together in residence halls, as well astake online courses and work together on projects” making it more affordable and accessible to all walks of life. Currently, they have these campuses scattered in 7 locations around the world, from Taiwan to the UK. They have pioneered a new culture of learning with the choice of immersing yourself in a new culture while maintaining some form of interaction with course-mates.

However, The Atlantic is convinced that MOOCs will never overthrow an Ivy League education, saying that, “even though HarvardX classes feature the same content as their in-person equivalents, it’s not possible for students to earn anything more than a certificate of completion—the equivalent of a “P” in a pass-fail class”. And there will always be members of the elite who would not stop at anything to give themselves and their brood a leg up in a world that judges individuals based on their successes and accomplishments.

For The Guardian, “ online courses can never totally replace the campus experience“, which may stand true but does not diminish the fact that had online degrees not exist, students enrolled in Georgia Tech’s program would not have gone anywhere else. This means that even if MOOCs ceased to exist, there would not have been an influx of students gracing the halls of universities.

It seems as though the time of grand institutions will come to an end eventually, unless it is purposefully conserved. Following the natural selection of things, a hybrid of MOOCs with the option of joining a mini-campus will take its place. Especially for places where education is not widely or conveniently available, online courses where one could earn certified qualifications would be extremely beneficial. Something as simple as acquiring skills for Microsoft software could make a large improvement in employability and work productivity.

On top of that, these courses have the flexibility to change and grow in ways not available to traditional syllabuses such as this course in change management training provided by Knowledgehut specially aimed at managers and business leaders to better lead their teams and optimize performances across a range of aspects in their life. There are many such examples in abundance, from coding to construction.

All in all, we might not live see the domination of virtual learning, but online degrees and certifications have come with a sweeping change and is here to stay; opening doors to learning a new set of skills required to keep up with our ever-changing society.

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