Free online courses do big numbers these days. So-called MOOCs, or massive open online courses, typically get tens of thousands of sign-ups to watch video lectures delivered by tweedy academics, some more photogenic than others, Slate reports.
But imagine how many students would tune in—or make it through the class without dropping out—if instead of bookish professors, Hollywood stars delivered the lessons.
That’s one idea under consideration by leaders of EdX, the nonprofit provider of MOOCs started by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“From what I hear, really good actors can actually teach really well,” said Anant Agarwal, CEO of EdX, who was until recently a computer-science professor at MIT. “So just imagine, maybe we get Matt Damon to teach Thévenin’s theorem,” he added, referring to a concept that Agarwal covers in a MOOC he teaches on circuits and electronics. “I think students would enjoy that more than taking it from Agarwal.”
Casting Damon in a MOOC is just an idea, for now: In meetings, officials have proposed trying one run of a course with someone like Damon, to see how it goes. But even to consider swapping in a star actor for a professor reveals how much these free online courses are becoming major media productions—ones that may radically change the traditional role of professors.
One for-profit MOOC producer, Udacity, already brings in camera-friendly staff members to appear with professors in lecture videos.