More Free Education: Marginal Revolution University

The proliferation of free online education platforms continues. Today Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok (both economics professors at George Mason University) announced the launch of Marginal Revolution University, an online education platform for economics. From their blog:

Here are a few principles behind MR University:

1. The product is free (like this blog), and we offer more material in less time.
2. Most of our videos are short, so you can view and listen between tasks, rather than needing to schedule time for them.  The average video is five minutes, twenty-eight seconds long.  When needed, more videos are used to explain complex topics.
3. No talking heads and no long, boring lectures.  We have tried to reconceptualize every aspect of the educational experience to be friendly to the on-line world.
4. It is low bandwidth and mobile-friendly.  No ads.
5. We offer tests and quizzes.
6. We have plans to subtitle the videos in major languages.  Our reach will be global, and in doing so we are building upon the global emphasis of our home institution, George Mason University.
7. We invite users to submit content.
8. It is a flexible learning module.  It is not a “MOOC” per se, although it can be used to create a MOOC, namely a massive, open on-line course.
9. It is designed to grow rapidly and flexibly, absorbing new content in modular fashion — note the beehive structure to our logo.  But we are starting with plenty of material.
10. We are pleased to announce that our first course will begin on October 1.

Point 2 suggests that MRU will be more like Khan Academy than Coursera or other platforms, which by and large just take the traditional college lecture and put it online. We’re really interested to see how points 7 and 9 work as there aren’t many platforms that have experimented with user-generated content. One thing the post does not mention is certification, which remains a barrier to the adoption of free online education as a substitute for traditional forms of education. Salman Khan and John Henessey have discussed this issue and some platforms are beginning to try and tackle it (e.g. the edX certificate). Cowen and Tabarrok make no mention of certification in the announcement. It will be interesting to see if they address this at all when they launch. Stay tuned for updates on MRU.

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