The MOOC is the catalyst behind all the change. It brought the sleepy world of online learning, once perceived as a second-rate alternative, smack into the center of campus.
New online learning models are now surfacing, such as hybrid courses, which combine Internet lectures with in-class teaching. Universities are also forming "closed" networks to offer online courses for credit exclusively to students on participating campuses. The most notable of these, Semester Online, will be launched this fall by a consortium of seven universities on 2U, an educational platform.
While online learning is hardly new, people began seeing it differently after MOOCs went viral in the fall of 2011. Sebastian Thrun, a computer science professor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., offered his artificial intelligence course free of charge online – and 150,000 people signed up. Soon after, one of his colleagues, Andrew Ng, did the same with his Stanford machine learning course, and 105,000 enrolled. More courses followed. Suddenly, MOOCs were finding audiences worldwide.
Unlike more traditional open courseware – hour-long lectures videotaped from the back of the room and posted on the Internet – MOOCs have caught on in part because they are made for online learning. You can sign up for Lander's course, for example, in just a matter of minutes (the hardest part is devising a clever username). The whole course pops up on the landing page and is easy to explore with the click of a mouse: schedule, syllabus, brief lecture videos, assignments, video "deep dives" explaining topics only touched on in class, discussion forums, and a progress page to track how you're doing.
And you can attend lectures when you want: Watch a lesson now or download it and watch it later. If you missed something, listen to a lecture again. It's all as friendly as a basset hound.