Back in January, I posted an article predicting four top education technology trends for the year.  One of those predictions included continuing adoption of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – online courses aimed at large-scale interactive student participation via the web – by institutions wishing to deliver courses to broad audiences, no matter where in the world the students reside, in a highly engaging and cost-effective format.  I also suggested that this trend may present an opportunity for institutions wishing to expand sources of tuition-generated income beyond the reach of traditional campus walls.  And certainly, the format presents tremendous opportunity for degree-seeking students – for whom many traditional campus-based programs may fall just out of reach, due to geographic or economic barriers.

A groundbreaking new partnership

In a recently-announced partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and e-learning platform provider Udacity, AT&T will help pilot a program designed to provide higher education degrees via MOOCs.  This partnership will be the first time that a corporation, a MOOC platform provider, and an academic institution have joined forces to offer an online advanced degree program on a massive scale.

This partnership is revolutionary because students enrolled in the program will pay a fraction of the cost of traditional on-campus and previous online master’s programs. At Georgia Tech, tuition for the on-campus computer science master’s degree program is approximately $40,000. According to research by GetEducated.com, the national average for the same degree earned online falls to just under $25,000. This new partnership will allow Georgia Tech to offer the degree for only $7,000 – cutting the total price of its on-campus program by 80%, and beating the online national average by more than two-thirds!

Solid infrastructure is still important

Broadband internet access, a key infrastructure element underlying the delivery of MOOCs, is anything but new.  However, as media-rich applications and mobile/distance learning initiatives continue to propagate across education, universities like Georgia Tech and even state-wide education systems are becoming increasingly reliant on the strength of their wired Internet connection.  Another recent AT&T partnership in North Carolina illustrates the levels of connectivity necessary to support today’s students and faculty, and the continuing need for high-bandwidth optical services.

A fresh perspective

This new Georgia Tech program illustrates that opportunities abound when educators and industry professionals challenge themselves to approach challenges in entirely new ways.  By embracing the concepts of skills-based vs. location-based learning, looking beyond classroom walls, and leveraging the broadband connectivity many of us take for granted, Georgia Tech is unbarring the door to name-brand education for thousands –  uncovering a new revenue stream along the way.

We want to hear from you. Do you agree the “massive online” format has the power to revolutionize education by lowering costs and increasing access to advanced programs?