Once upon a time, online courses were considered the bottom of the educational barrel, but with heavy weights like MIT, Harvard and Stanford jumping on the bandwagon, online education has gone mainstream. It was just announced that ten highly selective universities are joining together in a online course consortium that will allow students to cross-enroll in for-credit courses at any of the participating campuses.
The universities participating in the consortium are:
Courses will be offered on a full semester basis, and will utilize software from 2U, an education technology group formerly know as 2tor. 2U/2tor has won high marks from both the education and financial communities, and the company was lauded earlier this year by Forbes Magazine as on the the 10 startups that are changing the world.
The new consortium will allow students from the ten participating universities to enroll in and receive credit in a wide range of online course offerings.. Students attending colleges or universities outside the consortium’s universe still can apply to take the courses. According to one source, there is a possibility that other universities will be joining this latest consortium, but nothing has been confirmed as yet.
This is 2U’s first venture into online undergraduate platforms. The company’s previous online learning platforms were confined to graduate programs developed in concert with individual universities, such as the online master’s degree in public health offered by George Washington University.
“We didn’t believe we could build a four-year undergraduate program equally as good as being at a great school,” says 2U co-founder and president of undergraduate programs, Jeremy Johnson. “But what we did think would be more interesting for students was a chance to either expand curricula in small ways while maintaining the campus experience or to explore a broader view of what’s possible with a semester abroad.”
Offering for-credit, online courses could vastly expand study abroad possibilities for many undergraduates. Traditionally, students pursuing degrees in disciplines with highly structured curriculums - especially the sciences and mathematics - have been discouraged from participating in study abroad programs. Making required courses available online and for credit suddenly changes the playing field.
“Imagine if you were interested in an internship with a nonprofit in sub-Saharan Africa, but there were no schools there you could accept credit from,” says 2U’s Johnson. “Should you be prevented from pursuing that? If you were able to take courses from Duke, Northwestern, or Notre Dame while there, you could go anywhere.”
This is an idea that the president of the Forum on Education Abroad, an association of American and overseas colleges and education-abroad providers, finds intriguing.
“The scale of this is something new,” he says. “I’ve heard of cases where a single institution might offer an online course, but this is the first time there are multiple courses and multiple institutions cooperating in a consortium.”