MOOCs are already making higher ed more accessible and affordable, and now they’re also helping colleges find young, scholarly talent at home and abroad. The Christian Science Monitor chronicles a number of stories about high-school students who earned spots at good colleges due to their performance in MOOCs. Two MIT freshmen, one from India and one from Mongolia, aced one of MIT’s MOOCs and got the school’s attention, eventually leading to their matriculation there. A Pakistani high schooler took a University of Pennsylvania MOOC on modern poetry, and today that MOOC professor is his academic advisor.These case studies highlight international students, but the same opportunity is open to high school students here at home. As the Monitor notes, MOOCs are a new way for high school students in rural locations, or who attend schools lacking the resources or funding to offer Advanced Placement courses, to showcase their talents and gain a competitive edge:
Piotr Mitros, chief scientist at edX, the MOOC platform created by MIT and Harvard to dispense learning online, notes that 5 billion people around the world lack access to a decent education. Among them, he says, “are millions who are brilliant and don’t have an opportunity to do anything with that.” Twenty years ago, he adds, there was no way to tap and teach these students. “Now we have the means to do it.”
One of the main selling points of MOOCs when they first emerged was their ability to make top-quality education available to people around the world who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it. So far, at least, research suggests that most users are well-educated westerners. But these stories suggest that MOOCs are beginning to reach these underserved communities. What’s more, the domestic uses of MOOCs are giving gifted high school students, as well as adults undergoing career transitions, a chance to pursue learning outside of traditional schools, and to demonstrate their new knowledge to colleges and employers. Even in their early stages, MOOCs have attracted plenty of naysayers, but it’s clearly too soon to count them out.