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Justifying the Cost of Higher Education: Why I Took a MOOC

Justifying the Cost of Higher Education: Why I Took a MOOC
MOOCs allow students the opportunity to learn the material they need to advance their careers without forcing them to conform to the mold of a given institution.

I recently wrote an article about my rationale for choosing to complete a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and how I felt it could benefit my effort of lifelong learning. I’ve now completed a MOOC through edX — a Harvard University course called “Justice” — which I felt would closely relate to an area I have great passion for, Corporate Social Responsibility.

I chose to complete a MOOC for several reasons. First, there is the cost factor. A MOOC has no cost other than my time. Second, a MOOC offers a lot of flexibility compared to a traditional classroom setting in terms of how I choose to complete the work. I can do it when I want and as frequently as I choose. This is a huge benefit to choosing this learning format. Third, MOOCs offer a variety of choice in terms of content, allowing me to ensure that when I invest my hard-earned money into a college or university program, it is the right program for me.

In evaluating the cost of a university degree, I keep coming back to one simple question: is the cost worth it? Is the potential return on investment of a university degree something I will be able to reclaim over the course of my career? I have several friends with university degrees who graduated without any practical experience and, in turn, were offered no job opportunities out of school.

I also have many friends who have more formal education than I do, but who make less money. Now, this seems to defy the logic of what a university education is supposed to allow us to accomplish. Isn’t one of the main reasons we tell our youth to pursue a university education because of the greater earnings potential? Of course, over time, this has the opportunity to change, but I’ve been able to make it to this point through high performance and on-the-job learning (another example of lifelong learning not tied to formal education). Is it that far of a stretch to suggest practical college programs combined with on-the-job experience actually offer the learner more value than a degree program?

For me, it came down to theory versus practicality. I could practically apply what I learned in college the day I walked onto the job. This is not to say I do not see the value in a university education. As you climb the corporate ladder, the theoretical knowledge provided by a designation like an MBA has great value, but for someone who learns through practical experience, I question the value an MBA program would offer someone with my learning style, at this point in my career.

If I can learn the theory from taking MOOCs and apply what I’ve learned through experience, I see no reason why I cannot continue this cycle with programs relevant at the various stages in my career. Then, as I move into more senior positions where I need to further augment my experience with the theory and knowledge provided by a program like an MBA, I have that option. Many MBA programs already offer admission to experienced professionals. Based on this, I believe higher education is becoming a commodity, and as education is something that should be available to all, there need to be alternative ways for people to learn in a style that suits them, at minimal to no cost. This will help separate the people who see the value in learning from the people who are simply looking for a designation. In essence, I believe it will allow people with true passion for what they do to shine.

I mentioned in a previous post that many of the successful entrepreneurs of our generation did not conform to traditional higher education practices. If education places students into a box and says, “If you don’t meet these requirements, you’re not welcome here,” does that not limit the potential of those students?

Everybody learns and finds success in his or her own way. If today’s higher education institutions continue to place walls around what is expected of a student’s learning style, they risk undermining their core values by limiting the potential of bright, young minds MOOCs and other forms of non-traditional education have the ability to drastically improve the basic levels of education in our world, and the power of these programs should not be underestimated.

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