There’s no simple story here. We’re headed to a blended world, a partnership between innovators and traditional universities.

Students already take Straighterline courses to shorten their time at a traditional college. More than 20,000 classrooms around the world now use Khan Academy material.

California state universities are offering blended models – MOOC learning materials with onsite help from faculty – and last month 10 state systems announced plans to incorporate Coursera in a range of ways into their own teaching. The early research suggests blended models can be effective. But technology alone, while excellent at some things, can’t yet achieve the broadest educational goals – especially for students who need more help.

Roughly 40 percent of Coursera’s registered students come from developing countries, as do close to half of edX’s. Coursera does not release its survey data on education levels, but most of its students seem already to have managed to get an undergraduate degree. Will other students have the Internet access or educational background to take advantage of MOOCs?

“Disadvantaged populations need higher-touch services, not self-services,” said Peter Stokes, an expert on education innovation at Northeastern University.

Abdoulaye Coulibaly, 26, is an English master’s student at Felix Houphouet Boigny University in the West African nation of Ivory Coast. He does not believe online education can or should replace the classroom.

“We’re going to be very lazy online,” he said. “If you put my class online, I’m going to take it and I’m not going to come to the university again. We need to come to class. They’re the teachers and they have to teach us. If we don’t understand, we need to ask questions. That’s the only way for us to understand.”


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