MIT’s Introductory Biology Course

After receiving much acclaim and commendation for their flexibility and convenience, there’s another aspect that online courses and degrees are being lauded for – quality of education. At America’s top class universities such as the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), online lectures and classes are being touted as literally being the next best thing.

MIT’s Introductory Biology Course

In an article published in the Business Insider earlier in June, the experience of Kevin Carey, the director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation, is discussed. Carey took two MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) from start to finish as an experiment to see how online learning stacks up on quality. He found MIT’s introductory biology course quite engaging and challenging, and even better than the real classroom experience!

Amongst features of the online course that Carey particularly liked, the fact that it was replicated as closely to the classroom experience as possible is what he found especially striking. The lectures delivered were videotaped a month ahead and there were ‘deep dive’ videos with TAs and grad students working on the more difficult topics.

In fact, when Carey went to MIT to test out a live lecture for a better analogy, he made the sweeping conclusion that live lectures may actually be worse!!!

His reasons? Students can pause the lecture at difficult points or to understand complicated diagrams, students can watch a video and listen to lectures on their own time and they can even watch and listen to the professor or lecturer more closely than, say, sitting at the back row of the lecture hall. Besides these, MIT’s online learning platform also allowed all sorts of engaging interactions such as visualizations related to the biology course such as a protein-folding simulator.

Carey claims that live lectures, that not many students take the advantage of, haven’t set an extremely high bar for online courses. “The problem sets and tests were approximately the same as those given at MIT, and were extremely difficult by design,” the Business Insider talked about Carey’s experience.

Though many would also claim that online courses require much more self-motivation than live classes, the same can easily be said for a traditional college course too.

All in all, this experiment rendered Carey to make a rather sweeping statement that online education critics may not approve of: “The burden of proof is no longer on technology to show that it can make traditional higher education better in a way that’s worth the price to students and taxpayers. It’s the other way around.”

What’s even better is that the quality and delivery of these online classes is just set to rise even more. Technology and its associated improvements will surpass any other sweeping developments in education and delivery of course material. So, all in all, online education does make for quite value-based learning.