The Power of Online Education

When we look at the access to knowledge over time, we can clearly identify a growing pattern. Until the 1920s you actually had to go to a library reading books/newspapers (Yes, libraries contained books once upon a time) or talk with somebody (possibly a professor) to gain knowledge about a particular topic. Then, after the first World War, broadcasting became popular, first radio and subsequently TV. This marked a shift in knowledge access and suddenly information was way easier to distribute and available. In the 1990s, the World Wide Web started to rise in popularity and initialized what would later be described as a knowledge explosion.

At the point in time when the Internet was still young, not much changed in the process of how people gained formal education. The standard was relatively similar as 50 years ago:

Bildschirmfoto 2017-04-26 um 16.37.32

After going to school, men needed to enlist in the army before pursuing their own future plans. Women skipped the army step. Subsequently, both male and female could seek educatiion that would allow them to find a job. This was usually training or university.

There was hardly any way around this, admittetdly simplified, process. With the emergence of the internet, however, a decrease in importance of formal education (training and/or university) was effected. Let me explain why. Due to the aforementioned increase in knowledge outside of the traditional sources (mostly books), people became less reliant on having access to the big libraries or social contact with peers or professors. They could just go on the internet and access the information there and even talk to people around the globe who are interested in the same subject.

It started to look like this:

Bildschirmfoto 2017-04-26 um 17.00.26.png

The internet was still very small and largely seen as inadequate to replace formal education, especially for job-finding purposes. But it was there and growing in popularity during the 1990s. The established universities did not really care and kept doing things as usual. Meanwhile, websites such as Wikipedia started to pop up and the power of the Web for knowledge seekers became more and more apparent.

Let’s fast forward a bit…

In 2006 the Khan Academy came into existence and the first Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) emerged with edX, Coursera and Udacity in 2012. The New York Times called it “the year of the MOOC“. Supported by big universities (edX was created by the MIT and Harvard), these online education providers started to gain traction and popularity.


More and more people decide to use the power of the Internet to enhance their skills or build a portfolio of knowledge.

Benefits include:

  • Access to highly specific and high-quality information (top universities)
  • Collaboration with people around the world
  • Very affordable
  • Location independent

While traditional universities are still present, they are increasingly challenged by MOOC’s and their many benefits.

Let’s update our little graph:


Bildschirmfoto 2017-04-26 um 17.21.47
Note that the obligation to enlist in the army is gone in most developed countries


The debate on the question of whether MOOC’s can adequately replace getting a degree from a university is gaining momentum as more and more people are using this medium of education. The consensus is that employees still prefer a university degree over any online certificate and that they value MOOC diplomas on a level as social engagement or extracurricular activities.

A different opinion comes from Elon Musk (SpaceX, Tesla)

The question remains and we have to wait and see how online eduction develops over time, especially in terms of employer acknowledgement. I, personally, would love to see an increase in acceptance of MOOC certifications. Having completed a couple of courses myself, the access to incredibly high-quality content is astounding in my opinion. Whatever you might be passionate about, there is a 99% chance of finding an inspiring course online.

Have you looked into any Massive Open Online Course? Where do you guys see the trend of MOOC’s going? Will they be a viable alternative to formal education in the near future?

Would love to read your take on the issue in the comments below!



2 thoughts on “The Power of Online Education

  1. I do feel that MOOCs will play a vital part in complementing formal education in the future. For example, through MOOCs, prospective university students will be able to get a head start in their chosen specializations or even convince your applied university admissions staff of your passion and dedication towards your applied course.
    Moreover as you have said, MOOCs allow anyone the opportunities to study almost anything! It doesn’t matter that your interest lies in cooking rather than biology, MOOCs will be able to provide the necessary courses to further your interests and passion. Therefore I do feel that MOOCs can provide a viable alternative to formal education as they allow people to expand on what they are good at and further their desired skills.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that MOOC’s could potentially be support for university applications. The question is whether they can challenge the position of “traditional” universities. Maybe they will gain a higher standing when more universities themselves adopt them and the verification processes to “guarantee” the learning outcome of the student will be improved. But I certainly agree that right now they are rather taken based on intrinsic motivation (vs. extrinsic: getting a job/salary).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s