It’s been two years since a New York Times article declared the “year of the MOOC” — short for “massive open online courses.” Now, for the first time, researchers have carried out a detailed study that shows that these classes really can teach at least as effectively as traditional classroom courses — and they found that this is true regardless of how much preparation and knowledge students start out with.

The findings have just been published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, in a paper co-authored by researchers from MIT, Harvard, and China’s Tsinghua University.

“It’s an issue that has been very controversial,” said lead author David Pritchard Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics at MIT. “A number of well-known educators have said there isn’t going to be much learning in MOOCs, or if there is, it will be for people who are already well-educated.”

 

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