[caption id="attachment_51478" align="alignleft" width="150"] In a field known for glacial change, MOOCs have landed like a meteorite in higher education.[/caption]

In 15 years of teaching, University of Pennsylvania classicist Peter Struck has guided perhaps a few hundred students annually in his classes on Greek and Roman mythology through the works of Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus, and others—"the oldest strands of our cultural DNA."

But if you gathered all of those tuition-paying, in-person students together, the group would pale in size compared with the 54,000 from around the world who, this fall alone, are taking his...

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