Harvard and MIT are among a group of universities planning to spend tens of millions of dollars on "massively open online courses (MOOCs)," a new type of higher education teaching that can include thousands of students in a single lecture. The two institutions have already launched an online platform called edX to offer these courses. (Stanford has been a leader in online education as well, and its Class2Go platform has seen edX integration.) But whether MOOCs are actually the future of education still seems to be a point of confusion and concern among professors. In a large profile of educators and administrations involved in the educational shift, The New Yorker explores whether pedagogy at a higher level is more about the weekly lectures that MOOCs emulate or about placing students in an intellectual environment with face-to-face connections.

As The New Yorker writer Nathan Heller notes, "Bill Clinton, a lower-middle-class kid out of Arkansas, might have received an equally distinguished education if he hadn't gone to Georgetown, Oxford, and Yale, but he wouldn't have been President." Even if universities haven't determined if there's truly a distinction, many are already moving to put MOOCs into regular practice.