03/12/2014 06:02 pm ET Updated May 12, 2014

Online Universities 2.0: Taking Education to the Next Level -- Worldwide

A couple of years back, the very essence of education was to get enrolled in a prestigious university and attend regular classes. The Internet played no role in that. But not anymore; now, no matter where you are in the world, you can get educated, mostly free of charge, on different subjects. You choose what you want to learn and how. This is not only more practical, but a tremendous success. I am convinced that it will, over time, shift global education patterns and ultimately make the world a more even playing field, no matter where you start out -- all you need is access to a computer, Internet and the will to learn.

Online technology as a disruptive ingredient has brought a complete overhaul in our education system. The late 20th century witnessed a possible emergence of distance learning through Internet. Slowly and steadily, this paved way for several universities offering online courses and classes, and thus empowering thousands of people like never before. The growing popularity of online education can be further emphasized by the findings of a recent survey conducted in the University of Pennsylvania. The survey revealed that nearly 80 percent of the people who took admission in an online course were through with their bachelor's degree. Learning is now like ordering food in a restaurant, one class at a time.

Certainly there are some skeptical voices regarding the impact of online education vis-à-vis the traditional teaching methods. In order to prove the opposite, I would like to compare online education with music. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the only way one could hear music was either by playing it or going to a live performance; however, when technology made its foray into the domain of music, recording and reproducing activities started taking place. With the rapid improvement in technology, the live performances got less, but they didn't disappear -- but in fact where amplified and came back in a different format.

Near the cultural side there is the financial aspect. In an attempt to fund their college education, most traditional students carry an enormous debt burden. Online universities, on the other hand, allow students an opportunity to attend the course of their choice, by some of the best universities and professors, for a marginal cost. These courses can be taken at one's own pace, in a café or at home. This helps in saving a considerable amount of time and money.

The online education industry achieves a tremendous side effect in educating folks that might have previously been left out due to financial, time or other constrains. It brings together a community of learners and a facilitator who can keep them engaged. This increases the rate of course completion and enhances learning experience. Some of the popular open universities offering online classes that I found quite interesting include edX, Open Yale and Coursera. These open platforms not only conduct free classes, but are also taking an active initiative to expand online education in other countries.

I see online education as a means of democratizing higher education. By offering free online classes to anyone in the world, the virtual universities have managed to bring together the world-wide student community, under a single roof. This is a massive improvement that we only will see grow in the future.