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For many, the value of MOOCs lies in their potential to reduce the cost of education and corresponding bottlenecks in course registrations. They hope that MOOCs will create increasingly accessible, low-cost paths for learners and reduce the overhead of developing and delivering courses. Clayton Christensen, in The Innovative University, profiled the success of BYU-Idaho in that college’s development of an online program that simultaneously grew the student population while reducing cost. BYU-Idaho offers online degree programs for $65 per credit, reducing the cost of a degree to less than $10,000. Similarly, the University of Texas announced plans to explore the deployment of MOOCs with the stated hope of reducing the cost of a UT degree for at least some students. The university has partnered with edX in hopes of using edX courses to get more students into the pipeline and through college more rapidly and for less money.
Students in the United States are increasingly shut out of courses, unable to register for required classes because of high demand and an overburdened infrastructure. Students who have already matriculated are increasingly placed on waiting lists for classes they need to complete their degrees, transfer to four-year institutions, or register for enough courses to remain qualified for financial aid. State colleges and universities in California, New York, and elsewhere look to MOOCs and other online learning models to open up access to required courses for students suffering from being stuck in systems that are increasingly unable to meet demand.
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As our network connections grow and evolve, we begin to question the theory of Dunbar’s number, that cognitive limit on the number of people with whom we can successfully sustain active and stable relationships. We find intriguing possibility and potential as we navigate new and existing relationships in the context of our layered network ties. The promise of active and intellectual engagement with innumerable minds is inspiring. MOOCs provide hope to connect in a structured manner and in new ways with individuals who share our interests and enthusiasms. MOOCs are open and inviting; at present, the only price of admission is curiosity and an Internet connection. MOOCs are not restricted to the traditional student—which makes the diversity of participants itself well worth reviewing, as we do in our next chapter.