I don’t need to tell you that the Internet has given us access to more free knowledge than ever before. Just one glance around a restaurant, coffee shop or retail store, and you’re bound to see people Googling manically on their smartphones (hopefully about something other than the latest Hollywood gossip). But a new concept called Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC is the catchy acronym) is bringing the idea of accessible education to a whole new level. The idea is simple: Universities like Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are starting to offer free online courses, and everyone — that includes you, writer — can enroll.
You don’t receive college credit for completing a MOOC course, but you do get a grade and a certificate of mastery. MIT’s first stab at the free online courses, a Circuits and Electronics class offered in March, attracted 120,000 enrollees. Only 10,000 completed the course, but the experiment is still a giant leap toward building a global community of learners. Higher-education heavy hitters like Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan have also signed on to offer MOOCs in the near future.
The day has arrived when all of us can say we’ve taken a course through Harvard, Princeton or MIT. The question is, how many of us are going to take these Ivy League institutions up on their offer?
Education is everywhere. It’s free and, in the case of MOOCs, merely a laptop, smartphone or tablet away. Whether we’re taking online education courses or researching our latest obsessions on Wikipedia, one thing is clear: the only limit to how much information we accumulate is ourselves.