Free Online Courses Are Still Falling Short of Their Ultimate Promise

MOOCs were going to revolutionize education—but just because you put a college class online, doesn't mean you've solved the problem with university lectures.

Starting in 1957, New Yorkers could turn on the TV at 6:30 most summer mornings to watch Sunrise Semester on CBS. The show’s “stars” were NYU professors, usually seated at a desk, lecturing on a given subject, such as history, philosophy and comparative literature. Viewers unable to afford the cost, or time, required by a traditional institution had the option to pay a reasonable $25 per point to follow along and receive credit.

Sunrise Semester, which went off the air in 1982, was the low-tech grandparent of the MOOC, or “massive open online course.” MOOCs, which many universities now offer, enable students to watch videos of classes, take tests online and sometimes pay for credit.

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