Princeton Goes Online: Will Online Learning Close The Education Gap or Widen It

Earlier this year, Princeton University announced its intentions to offer a range of courses for free online. Through Coursera, the educational technology company that is facilitating this online learning, Princeton has joined a fast-growing consortium of higher-education institutions that have recently made the commitment to expand learning opportunities beyond their respective campuses. Other universities now offering these online courses include Stanford, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Duke, and the University of Pennsylvania, just to name a few.

When one thinks about Princeton, the words “elite,” “privilege,” and “wealth” certainly come to mind. Obnoxiously high SAT scores and nearly impossible admissions standards also seem to typify what it takes to simply be worthy of receiving such an exalted education and the license to walk through its pristine campus.

A previously limited-enrollment lecture-style course can now potentially accommodate thousands of students, inviting many more thoughts, ideas, frames-of-reference, and world views to the discussion table. A virtual learning environment, with the capacity to include people from all around the world, can only challenge one’s thinking and push one to consider arguments never before imagined, all a result of this New Age learning community.

But when we are talking about the inequities in accessing the internet, images of rural communities should immediately come to mind, as many in this country are getting left behind in this digital age. These maps, part of a billion-dollar effort to improve internet access in the United States, show how stark the contrast is between those communities that have regular access to the internet and those that do not.