Free online courses could change the face of higher education. (Thinkstock)

Friedman Sees the Future of Higher Education


Opinion columnist Thomas L. Friedman sees the future of higher education and it isn't in a classroom. He recently wrote for the New York Times about the advances online courses have made over the last couple of years, specifically the massive open online course, or MOOC.

“Nothing has more potential to lift more people out of poverty—by providing them an affordable education to get a job or improve in the job they have,” he says in his column. “Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems.”

Friedman mentions Coursera and edX, both platforms for teaching online courses.

Coursera was founded at Stanford University in California. Last year, 300,000 people took 38 courses taught by Stanford professors and a few other universities. Friedman says when he checked in recently, 2.4 million students are taking 214 courses from 33 universities, eight of them international.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have jointly worked on building edX, a nonprofit MOOC, that Friedman reports has had some 155,000 students.

“That is greater than the total number of M.I.T. alumni in its 150-year history,” Anant Agarwal, the former director of M.I.T.’s artificial intelligence lab, now president of edX, told Friedman.

Friedman admits in his column that the reach of these courses isn’t that great currently, but says he’s “convinced that within five years these platforms will reach a much broader demographic.”

Anyone with an Internet connection can sign up for these classes, most of which are free. Check out and for more information.

Read Friedman’s full column at

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



Tina Johnston's picture
Tina Johnston
Submitted by Tina Johnston on
Potential yes but having worked as a mathematics instructor using a hybrid online/in class model and in a previous job as an online instructor there are lots of kinks yet to be worked out. Yes, the outreach is great. People from all over the world can participate no matter how remote they are from universities but on the other hand our online educational designs are not a whole lot different than the old television model where the student watches, practices and then send in assignments for instructors to review. This passive educational model is not the best way to learn. I have tried a few times to put together real time classes but technology (at least at a reasonable price) is just not up to the job of filming and sharing work among students spread out in different locations working with instructors in others. This I hope can be solved eventually so that real teaching and learning can take place no matter where a students lives.