Marginal Revolution University Joins the Online Education Arena

Marginal Revolution University (MRU) is named after a successful blog called ‘Marginal Revolution’ that is updated daily by George Mason University development economics professors Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok. Cowen and Tabarrok founded MRU. The blog’s title should give most readers a pretty good idea about what sort of commitments Cowen and Tabarrok bring with them to the courses they offer for free online. During the late 19th century, a ‘marginal revolution’ in economics brought an end to the prevailing labour theory of value, which was supplanted by the use of mathematical calculations of marginal cost and utility to explain economic phenomena. Setting the author’s commitments aside is not difficult, since MRU offers interesting courses that are, from my perspective as an amateur, accessible, informative and not excessively biased by the founders’ obvious fiscal conservatism. That said, I would not want to draw my knowledge of economics solely from MRU.

The key terms that describe MRU’s approach to education are; learn, teach and share. MRU encourages others to use its content and to submit content for use on its site. The logo was crowd sourced and, claims an introductory video on the site, was “inspired by the idea of a bee hive and you can take this part of the logo (a part of the hive that appears to be joining from the outside) as showing how additional knowledge is always being added onto the pile.” MRU wants its courses to reflect the founder’s approach to education as about learning, teaching and sharing and the same introductory video claims that, ‘at’ MRU, “Not all knowledge is equally certain (uncertain), knowledge is always changing, and (the material that is presented is) not the final word.”

What an MRU course is:

  • Videos, accompanied by a discussion forum, a detailed course outline, a twitter feed featuring leading economic thinkers who post about the topic covered by a course, and information about the instructors responsible for a course’s content.
  • Not for credit, although users may obtain an MRU certificate if they register and successfully complete the final exam.
  • Open for use by courses offered at other institutions. MRU even has a tutorial about how to use their content to flip your classroom.
  • Open to user-generated content. MRU encourages the user to create her own content, which can be added to the site. Tutorial videos that show the user how to create videos using PowerPoint are available.
  • Completely free of charge and open to the public. All videos and quizzes are open to the public even if you have not registered to ‘take’ a course.

What MRU courses are not:

  • Not a MOOC. MRU calls its courses ‘flexible learning modules’, although they can be made part of a MOOC and the courses are listed on the site
  • For credit, at all. Your only reward will be glory.

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