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The Future Of Higher Education

Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, left, and former MIT President Susan Hockfield announce the creation of edX in May. (Courtesy Katie Broida)

Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, left, and former MIT President Susan Hockfield announce the creation of edX in May. (Courtesy Katie Broida)

We’re joined by noted MIT researcher Anant Agarwal. He’s also the president of edX, the joint Harvard/MIT project to offer free learning online.

We talk to Agarwal about the future of higher ed.



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  • Call_Me_Missouri

    This was the most ridiculous conversation I have ever heard…

    They used to call the “Mix” of Education and Work an Apprenticeship
    Program.  And it was PAID FOR by the EMPLOYER.

    If Employers want this “Mix” so badly, they can pick up the tab for it AND pay a salary!

    I can’t believe I am going to say this… but we really need more Unions.

    • Meghna Chakrabarti

      Hi there – Not sure why our conversation was ridiculous. Especially since we explored exactly this issue you’re talking about — having a mix in education again, that includes real world experience. Yes, a version of that was once called an apprenticeship, but I fail to understand why talking about it again in a more modern context is ridiculous. If anything, I’d think you should find this conversation hopeful, since people are thinking about changing the current M.O. of higher ed. Or perhaps you meant that it’s ridiculous that this isn’t the standard for education? 

      • Call_Me_Missouri

        Here is why what you were discussing is ridiculous.

        The old fashioned apprenticeship program went like this…  You signed a contract for a n number of years of service with a company.  They paid you a salary.  You worked full time and went to school part time.  They paid for your school.  You had a job the entire time you were in school plus the n number of years.

        The “modern context” goes like this…  You pay outrageous tuition + 50 years of compounding interest.  You don’t get paid for your work experience with all the Un-Paid Internships…  And you still don’t have a job at the end of it.

        You and your guest talked about this new way of doing things like it is Acceptable.  It is NOT Acceptable.  It IS Ridiculous.  It is not OK for a company to complain about not finding qualified workers…  and not being willing to train someone to do the job.

        I love online education and I appreciated the rest of your conversation with the guest…  But the youth of today need a real voice that will shame (every single day) companies that don’t use this new technology to go back to PAID apprenticeship programs in leiu of a college degree.

        • Meghna Chakrabarti

          Hi there. 
          Thanks for your comments and continued listening. However, I’m afraid I have to disagree with what you said here. We didn’t talk about the current model of higher ed as if it is acceptable. Not at all. Exactly the opposite, in fact. The entire premise of the conversation was that many people find the high tuition model entirely unacceptable, which is why people see online education as part of an inevitable disruption to higher education. 

          I take your point about unpaid internships and how that’s different from apprenticeships. That’s something worth talking about more in the future. 

  • RockefellerJones

    I’ve taken 6.002x and viewed videos of the corresponding MIT class on YouTube  from MIT OpenCourseware (PLEASE do not close it down!) decades after earning an engineering degree from MIT the old fashioned way long ago. A few comments:

    Online learning, when done right (which, pace some Coursera classes I’ve seen, will not always be the case) can be a tremendous boon to bright, motivated students who want to learn, but who may find themselves in an environment where their opportunities are limited.  However it is not and cannot be the equal of being there in the classroom and having a professor like Anant Agarwal or Walter Lewin to turn to in real time when the going gets tough.  Even if one does not ask questions in class (I always did), often just hearing professors address the questions of classmates in real time makes for a richer learning experience than one gets by listening to a monolog.  A good professor is energized by his students and tailors his delivery as per what he sees on their faces.  This level of real time feedback is absent (so far) from classes like 6.002x.  I often found myself turning to Professor Agarwal’s recorded live MIT OpenCourseware videos rather than get the same material from 6.002x. (He’s a very good lecturer.) I suggest that future EdX classes offer a blend of some of the  “Khan Academy” approach of 6.002x for working out specific problems, combined with a full set of  live lecture videos for presenting the main material. 

    Some courses have a laboratory component that online simulations are not likely to be able to match.  6.002x’s Playground worked great; one suspects that dissecting a virtual pig for a biology class, or using software to mimic weighing out and working with chemicals for a chemistry class, simply will not work nearly as well.

    Notwithstanding the few critical comments above, this is well worth doing and so unlike the rest of American life, with its dreary short term emphasis on maximizing shareholder value and its vastly overpaid CEOs and bankers-who-mustn’t-be-allowed-to-fail economy.  The sly subversion offered by EdX is greatly appreciated.  Now then, when are you guys going to offer courses in signal analysis, digital design, and MIT’s three semester sequence in quantum mechanics? 

  • mgozaydin

    ONLINE is for millions . To attract millions a program should appeal to whole world and should be provided by the top schools of the world.
    If an online is attracted by millions then cost per course per person is less than $ 1 .
    Then even if school charges only $ 10 per course per person school can make billions $ .
    Therefore project is sustainable and  self financing .
    That is the vision of MITx+Harvardx .
    MIT has a long range plan . Their strategy started in 2001 by OCW .
    Today they have 100,000,000 captive students in the world .
    As an employer , I will hire the holders of certificates of MITx + Harvardx . When time is right some degrees will be awarded as well .

Hosts Meghna Chakrabarti and Anthony Brooks introduce us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and bring us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3.

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