Monday, May 21, 2012

The online education market is global

There has been a lot of talk about and investment in open online classes from elite US universities like MIT, Harvard and Stanford, but let's not lose sight of the fact that online education is a global market -- on both the supply and demand sides.

Excellent universities in other nations than the US are offering classes, certificates and degrees online. There are Big Names like the Inidan Institutes of Technology, Cambridge, and Oxford and not-so-big names like the University of Namibia. Universities big and small in every language group are thinking about distance education today -- we can look forward to a lot of competition and choice.

The student population is also global. Stanford's AI course had students from 190 countries.  The class was also free, and the most exciting promise of open online education is that it can reach the disenfranchised.

One is reminded of the story of the young mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan rising to fame after writing Professor G.H. Hardy at Cambridge from his village in Southern India. (His first two letters to Hardy are said to have been returned unopened). Tomorrow's Ramanujan will have a much easier time getting the attention of his tutors. How many Ramanujans will we find enrolled online and what will be their contribution to humanity?

I can't leave this post without pointing out the irony that Springer publishes a math journal named after Ramanujan. The print version of Ramanujan is $719 per year plus $67.50 shipping and handling and the electronic version is $590. Ramanujan could not have afforded it -- but the disruption of academic publishing is a different post.