Anyone can create an account and start working through its self-paced online courses free of charge. Their progress gets recorded. If they decide to pay up and enroll, they get access to an adviser (who helps navigate the university) and course specialists (who can discuss the material). They also get to take proctored online tests for course credit.As a business model for a business, this is pretty familiar to us all. Would it work for education?
My take is that it would work for training, which is what this really seems to be. To take one example of how this could work: say you want to work at a restaurant. Okay, you need to pass the state health test for food servers. You go online, read the manual about washing your hands and keeping hot foods hot, take the test, and then you are certified. You have been trained, but have you been educated?
This model offers the possibility of "course specialists who can discuss the material," but is that like a classroom discussion in which multiple viewpoints are brought out and examined, with teachers helping to guide the discussion? Or is it more like a student help tutorial, as in "I can't figure out problem #5; can you help me with that"?
I have only limited experience with any sort of model like this: A very long time ago, I was asked to grade an exam in my subject area for a student who had studied on her own but wanted to receive credit, which this exam would give. I don't remember the particulars, but it was a pass/fail essay exam arrangement and she would then be able to go on to later courses in a sequence, or something like that. I said "sure" (which you say a lot as an adjunct) and read the exams.
While they showed factual familiarity with the subject matter, enough familiarity that she would pass, there was not one idea in there that showed original thought or engagement with what she had studied. She was certainly smart enough, but what was lacking is what I'd call "leavening"--the kind of working through or chemical reaction needed to make flour rise, or the kind of nuanced thought that she could have learned by participating in class discussions under a live teacher. She got what she wanted, as did the administration, but I felt a little as though she'd been cheated out of an experience that could have done so much more for her--an experience that she didn't even know she had missed.