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Open Online Courses Bring 'Elite' Education to Everyone


As distance learning is transforming education, another aspect to virtual education is also gaining a foothold, as big name universities extend their brand. 

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, allow hundreds, or thousands, of students to take courses from leading schools around the world, though not typically with an aim towards a traditional college degree.

Chris Westfall is a national expert on MOOCs and has created his own online class to help others sell their business ideas better.

“Essentially the way education has been delivered, especially higher education in this country, for more than 100 years, there has been no change,” Westfall says. “And MOOCs represent a tectonic shift [in education].”

MOOCs were created at Stanford University when the school offered a class about artificial intelligence. Over 160,000 students started the class and 23,000 completed it. Because of the class's popularity, the trend caught on.

Westfall says MOOCs “are at the intersection of what businesses expect, what students expect, and what universities can deliver.”

They offer students of all ages and backgrounds free access to education on a particular skill or study of interest. It harnesses social power, where students help other students learn. In return, those who complete the course gain certification in the area.

Westfall acknowledges that there are some notable challenges still being ironed out. Cheating is the main concern, as well as teachers not really knowing where students are struggling and how to test for true competency on the subject matter. However, computer programs that analyze student interaction with the computer (i.e. mouse movement) are being developed to help address those challenges.

Universities around the country, such as University of Wisconsin-Madison and Stanford, offer MOOCs, but there are also companies that have been created to specialize in MOOCs, such as Coursera and Udacity.

Chris Westfall is an American motivational speaker, entrepreneur and author from Dallas, TX, best known as the national elevator pitch champion. Earlier this month, the Greater Milwaukee Committee brought together several university presidents from the area to discuss the future of MOOCs with Westfall.