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More than five-and-a-half million students representing nearly 200 countries are enrolled in Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, offered by the Penn Online Learning Initiative.

But according to Penn Online Learning Initiative Associate Director Lauren Owens, these numbers belie the degree to which students from around the world are really impacted by the courses.

“The biggest advantage is access,” Owens said. “[MOOCs] are getting [Penn’s] brand out there to people who have never considered [Penn] before.”

Students who live in disadvantaged regions of the world now have access to courses offered by Penn professors. Although the courses aren’t always immediately available to Penn students, certain professors have already used the content developed for MOOCs in their classes.

Wharton professor David Bell believes that MOOCs will not completely replace current education — but hybrids have the potential to transform university education.

Bell, whose research concentrates on the impact of internet startups on physical stores, explained the necessary hybrid structure of education by pointing to Amazon’s development of physical stores to accompany its website.

“New interest will come into the [online education] market as university platforms for online education continue to grow,” Bell said.

Before MOOCs became widely accepted as a successful form of large-scale education, many people feared that MOOCs would eventually replace traditional forms of education in classrooms. But Owens said the benefits of online learning outweigh any potential threat to Ivy League schools.

Students and professors who participate in MOOCs can often develop close relationships despite the lack of an in-person relationship.

“The overwhelming feedback is extremely positive,” Owens said. “Professors get effusive letters of thank you and gratitude, which is really nice to see.”

And as for Penn, Owens believes it can use MOOCs to broaden its reach.

“At Penn, we have often depended on the platforms to reach new audiences,” Owens said. “The many millions of people clicking through Coursera and edX contributes to the number of learners that we have.”