Maybe She’s Never Heard of Gary North…

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…but Froma Harrop is channeling him here.

Several kids in our homeschool co-op are taking online courses — yes, the kind you pay for, even though the math guys often refer to Khan Academy videos for homework help.

Gary has articulated well the virtues of college online, all of which I affirm, but one more benefit comes to mind as I learn more about them. College courses are, after all, different from those taken in secondary school, whether completed at home or in high school buildings. These online college courses (e.g., at coursera.com, a new and free consortium which Harrop discusses) offer the prospective student the chance to preview courses in a field without having to commit a semester’s time and money to discover that, perhaps, that field is not your cup of tea. Bargain-hunting students, take note.

For forty years I have been amazed at how so many parents and students never get beyond the admissions departments at the “college of their choice.” They might never see a living professor, unless it’s at a carefully-packaged “open house for prospective students” (we just went to one). But iTunes has Jack Rakove’s entire Colonial History course at Stanford, downloadable, free. How he won a Pulitzer I’ll never know, but he reminds his students repeatedly of that and his countless other brilliant accomplishments all the time (he is, he coyly admits, the world’s leading expert on James Madison). Now, a lot of people applying to Stanford don’t know Jack! Now you can! Think of all the money you save — I listened to Jack at our daughter’s pool!

Online learning is growing fast. Naturally, therefore, a bureaucratic obstacle looms: accreditation, the choke point that the academy has relied on for years to keep out competition. Battle lines are being drawn.

1:24 pm on April 24, 2012