Another school year is upon us, and again we are faced with the challenge of accessibility and cost of education.

Massive open online classes, more commonly referred to as MOOC’s, are gaining substantial popularity across the nation. These online courses, offered to large numbers of students, and often free of charge, use a recorded video curriculum that students can access at their convenience. One of the major benefits is the on-demand structure of that content. Furthermore, this increased accessibility allows students to participate regardless of their location or scheduled availability.

Although MOOC’s can vary drastically from class to class, they have one thing in common; their use of video. Combining video conferencing equipment and infrastructure, educators are able to record, edit, and stream high quality lectures and content. The growth of collaboration in education beyond traditional video conferencing also includes the use and integration of interactive whiteboards. Instructors are now using these interactive whiteboards to complement and add dimension to their online curriculum. The collaboration of these technologies give students the face-to-face feel of a traditional classroom without having to physically be there.

Recently, an increased number of universities around the country have started to offer both, single for-credit courses, as well as full-scale degrees using a paid MOOC platform. This structure of education gives institutions the ability to start attacking the cost and efficiency problems that traditional programs struggle with. Based on a recent article in the New York Times, Georgia Institute of Technology announced that they are planning to offer a MOOC-based online masters degree in computer science. The price tag for this degree will be $6,600, a staggering difference in comparison to the $45,000 for the on-campus offering. This is just one example of the multiple universities who are launching these for-credit, mass online classes and programs.

Along with a strong number of supporters, comes quite a bit of criticism around MOOC’s. Many educators believe that a blend of both virtual and traditional face-to-face learning, as opposed to an online-only structure, is the most effective combination for student success. Critics argue that these mass online programs are difficult to scale while still keeping the tuition rates at the lower end. Additionally, many also argue that recorded courses lack important real-time engagement and conversation. However, the true effectiveness of these classes is still up for debate due to a lack of concrete data available at this point.

With the wide spread popularity of this emerging education trend, there are sure to be many more debates on the subject. As th­­e number of these programs increase, the more we will be able to understand and judge how successful they really are. Do you think MOOC’s are the wave of the future in higher education?