A university education, for free


Last year, 110,000 students enrolled in the MIT course ‘6.002x Circuits and Electronics’ taught by Professor Anant Agarwal. The course was free, and anyone anywhere in the world could enroll. A few months earlier, Dr. Agarwal, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and an Elsevier author, had contacted the Elsevier Books department with an interesting idea. He planned to launch a free online course on a platform called MITx, and he wanted permission to upload his 2005 book Foundations of Analog and Digital Electronic Circuits, published by Elsevier, in its entirety for the students to use.

Elsevier colleagues discussed the matter with Dr. Agarwal, and in March 2012, all students in 6.002x Circuits and Electronics received not only free access to his course materials but a free view-only version of Dr. Agarwal’s book.

Are MOOCs sustainable and high-quality?

According to a recent Outsell report, 3.17 million students have taken a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and that number may expand to 6 million by 2015. Students in 196 countries have already taken a MOOC.

But are MOOCs in the long run detrimental to students and universities? Will they harm authors and publishers by giving away free knowledge?

As far as Elsevier concerned, if we can add value to something that is sustainable and high-quality, that is a good thing. We’ve established partnerships like the one with MITx (now edX) to see how we can produce something of value for both institutions and students.

Written By: Dan Morgan
continue to source article at elsevierconnect.com


  1. People go to university for three things:
    1. to learn something
    2. to hang out with interesting people
    3. to get a diploma.

    When I went to university even when the class had 5 students, the profs still taught as if it had 500. The MOOC has the advantage of more time spend preparing for such a show. The main thing a MOOC cannot give you is (2).

  2. University admissions could be simplified enormously, and to the disappointment of most of us: The only applicants to be granted admission are those who have no need to be here. 😉

  3. Elsevier has been drifting into my sights recently as potentially becoming mere parasites in the world of science and technology publication, the essential problem being that new technology is wiping away their costs yet they fail to pass on savings and decently shrink as an organisation as their work disappears.

    Yet twice now I have seen a more civilised response to these challenges and opportunities.

    This support for MOOCs looks to have enormous potential. I wonder if these might not be run in concert with businesses, becoming the core of high grade in-house training. Technology companies often worked with sandwich courses, but these could be far more integrated, even providing facilities and mentoring for lab work that would otherwise be missing from a MOOC. These companies might become customers for bulk purchased training/education. Their current suppliers (in electronics it would be AVNET, Arrow, Digikey, in the UK RS, Farnell etc.) could re-package and re-sell MOOC modules to meet their customer requirements. They could package and sell the specifics for lab work. The modules could be sold in relation to new technology they have to sell. Working and learning is a very powerful bidirectional combination.

    I have often believed that much education is wasted on the young. They have few problems of their own and so have little need to know. Rapidly changing technology creates many problems for us grown ups. We are the ones that need a new module or two plugged into our brains.

    My second thought is Bill Gates and some of the exciting work he is promoting in education. This fits in rather nicely.

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