Masterclass co-founder wants people to try online college courses

If you have ever seen a Masterclass announcement and wish you could do it for your current degree, then today is a great day for you. Company co-founder Aaron Rasmussen launches Outlier, a Masterclass-style site that covers academic topics you’d cover in real degrees. So instead of Deadmau5 giving you lessons in EDM, you get lessons in calculus from Professor Hannah Fry (UCL), Professor Tim Chartier and John Urschel, the former Baltimore Ravens guard turned teacher at the MIT and PhD candidate.

The big difference between Masterclass and Outlier is the offer of college credits for those who complete each course. The credits will be offered by the University of Pittsburgh and, according to company representatives, will be treated as legitimate credits by both Pitt and other colleges. So if another institution normally accepts Pitt credits, you can use your Outlier credits in the same way.

Outlier is in the “pilot” phase and only offers two courses: Calculus 1 and Introduction to Psychology, both shot in the glossy Masterclass style. The psychology course will be taught by a number of academics, including Paul Bloom from Yale, Marjorie Rhodes from NYU and David Pizarro from Cornell. It is hoped that eventually the service will offer credit courses for the first two years of almost all degrees.

Each module will cost $400, and for this, potential participants will receive the video portion of the course as well as assessments and one-on-one tutoring (via the chat app). Since most undergraduates rarely see and talk to their professors, this might actually offer more contact time, rather than less. And there will be assessments: multiple-choice tests for introductory psychology and algorithmically verified elaborations for calculus.

As the price of higher education continues to rise, it is more difficult for poorer students to have the opportunity to improve. Online education is seen as a silver bullet, allowing people to get a better education for much less money, although it is difficult to turn these courses into real degrees. The fact that Outlier has managed to make a true top 100 college give credit could erode the last barrier to quality distance learning.

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