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Online Learning: What You Should Read First

There has been a plethora of white papers, magazine and newspaper articles, and other publications around online learning and its effects on higher education. Many faculty and administrators are looking at the benefits of “flipping the classroom” and other pedagogical approaches made popular by MOOCs and online learning programs. To get started in this conversation without being overwhelmed by the volume of publications, there are three articles that we would recommend as a strong foundation to assist your investigation of the pros and cons of online learning.

What role will online learning play in the success or failure of higher education? To answer this question, a recommended reading would be the Tanner Lectures by William B. Bowen, President Emeritus of Princeton University and of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In a two-part series provided by ITHAKA, Bowen first examines the state of higher education, specifically the “cost disease” affecting higher education. In the second part of this provocative series, Bowen lays out the online learning landscape and hashes out the potential of online learning communities to succeed educationally and financially.

In November 2012, Clay Shirky posted in his blog and entry titled, Napster, Udacity, and the Academy. Clay Shirky, Arts Professor at the NYU Graduate Interactive Telecommunication Program and is also a Distinguished Writer in Residence at the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism School. As an American writer, Shirky focuses on the social and cultural effects of the internet and mobile phones. In his post, Shirky compares the rise and disruption of the MP3 (and Napster) to the music industry to the rise and disruption of the MOOC to the university system. Shirky posits that MOOCs could lead to changes that are desperately needed in higher education. Shirky states that “once you imagine educating a thousand people in a single class, it becomes clear that open courses, even in their nascent state, will be able to raise quality and improve certification faster than traditional institutions can lower cost or increase enrollment.” He critically looks at the pros and cons of MOOCs and higher education.

Lastly, 7 Things You Should Know About MOOCs, an EDUCAUSE article summarizes the Who, What, Where, and How of MOOCs. This 2011 article succinctly explains to the reader what a Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) is, who are the students in these online courses, and which institutions are involved in these trials.

If this is not enough, CCNMTL collects article links on online learning. This feed is also available through