The future of higher education online is, at present, clear as mud. Do Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs — college-level classes offered online through a number of corporate providers — offer students better tools for study, increased opportunities at lower cost? Can they provide access to higher education to those who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it? Or do these canned classes portend the selling out of American education to Silicon Valley profiteers?

I took the best MOOC I could find over the last several weeks in order to try to answer these questions, as well as the one perhaps too seldom asked: Are even the best of these classes any good, or not? Are the best ones now, or could they one day be, as rewarding, informative and useful as a real class?