New online university seeks ‘many-to-many’ approach in economics course

MRUniversity provides tutorials on how to create course videos.

Two George Mason University economics professors have started a free educational site that seeks to answer a simple but far-reaching question: Why are some countries rich while other countries are poor?

Marginal Revolution University, known as MRUniversity, launched Oct. 1 as a hub for teachings on developmental economics, starting with a study of India’s economy.

The site is part Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), as it offers college-level teachings at no cost to anyone with an internet connection, but it strays from the traditional MOOC model by inviting students to share educational material—studies, reports, and videos, for example—to supplement the online lessons on developmental economics.

MRUniversity’s inaugural course, taught by George Mason professors Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, will be 45 hours long, broken into five-minute videos. Students will be encouraged to interact daily not just with the professors, but with fellow students, who are expected to submit course-related content.

Cowen said he expects MRUniversity’s classes to draw a large international contingent, as have MOOCs like Khan Academy and Coursera, which has formed partnerships with a multitude of elite universities this fall.

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More than 11,000 people have pre-registered for the online school’s first course, Cowen said. The professors have yet to advertise MRUniversity outside of two short blog posts.

“The ability to understand the fundamentals of development economics and the reasons why some countries are rich while others are poor is critical to students the world over,” Tabarrok said.

The demonstrated worldwide hunger for knowledge—even if it doesn’t lead directly to a college degree—was the impetus for MRUniversity, Cowen said.

“Our driving force was noticing that higher education is changing and wanting to be on the right side of history and to get economics teaching into the hands of everyone who wants to learn about it,” he said. “[Developmental economics] asks a central question and we think a huge market is people aboard partly because they don’t have that much access to this level of content.”

The economics professors designed course delivery with an eye on access.