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As the internet has been developing over the last few decades, so has the idea of online learning. Now it seems everywhere you look there are advertisements of online programs. In general when you think about online education, programs like University of Phoenix, or Education Connection come up. But recently more prestigious names have also began offering online only programs as well.

There is a New York Times article today that described Harvard and MIT partnering on a program called edX where both institutions will commit $30 million to offer a program that will offer students a chance to receive a Certificate of Mastery and a grade, however, the program will carry no official credit. Stanford, Princeton, U-Penn, and Michigan are also in process to develop similar programs and the University of Northern Carolina Keenan Flagler Business School recently developed an entire MBA program online.

Although there is generally still some negative stigma that goes along with online learning, it seems that it has become more accepted and mainstream. As I have been progressing through the CFA program, which is technically "online" (as I use ebooks and the Schweser online videos and q-bank), I strongly believe that I have learned more about the different aspects of finance through learning at my own pace online then I did by going through a formal finance program while pursuing my undergrad degree, not to mention more cost effective.

It used to be that to develop an advanced understanding of any subject matter, one would have to attend some sort of a program through an accredited university. Now anyone with a good sense of self-discipline and desire can log on to online schools like the Khan Academy and learn anything from a history lesson on Michelangelo's Pieta to using the Laplace Transform to solving a non-homogenous equation, and guess what? its free.

Although Khan Academy was relatively unknown to most until they had a profile done on 60 Minutes , Khan and similar programs are still difficult to put on a resume (even though you still obtain the knowledge). This is where the MIT, Harvard, etc. brand names come into play. You can take one of these online courses and put on your resume that you studied and received a certificate from a prestigious brand name institution.

Physically attending schools will probably never be replaced as people in all industries have a need to network, build leadership and team-working skills and of course have access to streamlined organized recruiting, but we are seeing education transform right before our eyes. It will be interesting to see how edX and other Ivy sponsored programs fare over the next 5-10 years.

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Comments (21)

  • WallStreetOasis.com's picture

    this will only get more and more common and more accepted as years pass. I wouldn't be surprised if eventually even the most prestigious institutions offer actual degrees online.

  • Short Bus All-Star's picture

    This will end up being a way that hyper-motivated international kids find a way into the US and get work experience under the guise of student visas. Konnichiwa.

  • seedy underbelly's picture

    Stanford, Penn, and Princeton are doing this through Coursera.
    Columbia did a similar thing some years ago, though it failed to take off.

    See this: https://www.coursera.org/

  • protectedclass's picture

    University of Illinois has an online MS in Computer Science, the exact same degree as taking it in residence. I plan on doing this when I am up in Chicago.

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius's picture

    Networking and socializing is a huge part of the uni experience, and something you really need to learn.
    However, from a purely academic point of view I don't see why not. I mean, many teachers already give lecture slides through the Internet, so you can just study with those (or real videos like the Khan academy), e-mail your questions, send the papers you have to write and just go to campus to take your final exam. It's not very different from the way most of us study now actually...

  • joiseyshore's picture

    this is successful in the short term because of the state of the economy. you have alot of unemployed and underemployed kids sitting around looking for something productive to do and these online education courses may be it. this is not to mention the large number of middle age folks that are still trying to get back on their career track.

    while big name universities may be offering education for free, i dont see how this will catch on in the future. employers will probably still continue to recruit on campus and question the legitimacy of these courses. like for profit online degrees, these may be for the desperate. as the economy picks up, people will probably disengage from it.

  • SevenFootPelicans's picture

    I feel like in-class learning provides a component to learning that online-learning simply cannot replace. Ultimately, I feel that online-courses will definitely become more and more prominent as our technology driven society blooms, but to suggest that concept of traditional in-class learning experience will be obsolete is a bit outlandish in my opinion.

    Money may buy the husk of things but not the kernel. It brings you food but not appetite, medicine buy not health, acquaintances but not friends, servants but not faithfulness, days of joy, but not peace or happiness.

    -Henrik Ibsen

  • UFOinsider's picture

    How do focused professional graduate schools look at this as an admissions criteria? I'm scheduled to take certificate coursework at NYU/Columbia with the purpose of offsetting low ugrad GPA...I have seen several people do this with great success. Your point about the CFA being largely self taught is a very interesting comparison.

    Specifically: what is the utility of attending one of these programs in order to offset ugrad GPA?

    Get busy living

  • Dedline's picture

    The accessibility of the courses will benefit the under privileged immensely. Regardless if they get the degree or not, the internet in general has provided a platform for those without resources to apply their knowledge to make something out of nothing.

    I don't know about more prestigious universities, but most of the online courses that state schools offer are all the same which they purchase from third-party whose answers are scattered all over the internet. I personally prefer the classroom experience with a teacher teaching from experience with a text book as reference as opposed to an automated teaching system that is vague and doesn't have any culture.

    Bottom Line :
    Great for technical skills, iffy on everything else.

  • Yuriy A's picture

    UFOinsider:
    How do focused professional graduate schools look at this as an admissions criteria? I'm scheduled to take certificate coursework at NYU/Columbia with the purpose of offsetting low ugrad GPA...I have seen several people do this with great success. Your point about the CFA being largely self taught is a very interesting comparison.

    Specifically: what is the utility of attending one of these programs in order to offset ugrad GPA?

    I think it is a very good idea to take a course like this. I have seen in many GMAT/MBA blogs that taking courses in general to offset a bad GPA is something that could boost your application (i.e. retake calculus because you got a D in undergrad).

    Especially since it seems that these programs give you grades. Also because of the brand names, the fear that people will think that you got an easy A can be put to rest because I doubt a Columbia or any other brand name programs would make their programs 'easy' and risk their reputations.

  • In reply to Yuriy A
    UFOinsider's picture

    Yuriy A:
    UFOinsider:
    How do focused professional graduate schools look at this as an admissions criteria? I'm scheduled to take certificate coursework at NYU/Columbia with the purpose of offsetting low ugrad GPA...I have seen several people do this with great success. Your point about the CFA being largely self taught is a very interesting comparison.

    Specifically: what is the utility of attending one of these programs in order to offset ugrad GPA?

    I think it is a very good idea to take a course like this. I have seen in many GMAT/MBA blogs that taking courses in general to offset a bad GPA is something that could boost your application (i.e. retake calculus because you got a D in undergrad).

    Especially since it seems that these programs give you grades. Also because of the brand names, the fear that people will think that you got an easy A can be put to rest because I doubt a Columbia or any other brand name programs would make their programs 'easy' and risk their reputations.


    This is actually very exciting news, as classes start this fall: right on target with my timeline. Ideally, I'll have more answers about how this affects grad school recruiting as I pester adcoms, so this is definitely a topic I'll follow over time. I didn't state this above, but thanks for the post and insight.

    Get busy living

  • Nefarious-'s picture

    notre dame has been offering three certification programs in business, online, for years.
    http://www.notredameonline.com/

    You're born, you take shit. You get out in the world, you take more shit. You climb a little higher, you take less shit. Till one day you're up in the rarefied atmosphere and you've forgotten what shit even looks like. Welcome to the layer cake, son.

  • duffmt6's picture

    I studied for CFA Level I for about 3 months. In the first week of studying I had covered about as much content as my semester long intro finance class.

    I can certainly see the merits of learning outside the traditional classroom, and if I ever get the chance I would like to study something that interests me outside the finance/math realm. If I could see some tangible benefit from it (even if it's only a certificate from a university) that would be really attractive to me.

    "For I am a sinner in the hands of an angry God. Bloody Mary full of vodka, blessed are you among cocktails. Pray for me now and at the hour of my death, which I hope is soon. Amen."

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