GMU professors to teach economics in free online university

Cowen (left) and Tabarrok (right) are economics professors at Mason (Photo courtesy of Alex Tabarrok)
Cowen (left) and Tabarrok (right) are economics professors at Mason (Photo courtesy of Alex Tabarrok)

Two George Mason University economics professors have started a free online university.

In September, Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok announced the opening of Marginal Revolution University (MRU) on their widely read economics blog, Marginal Revolution.

Tabarrok and Cowen first started publicly discussing and debating economic ideas on their blog in 2003.

“We think education should be better, cheaper, and easier to access,” read the blog post announcing the project. “So we decided to take matters into our own hands and create a new online education platform toward those ends.”

Cowen and Tabarrok plan to use the website to teach economic ideas worldwide.

“We realized that we had the opportunity to teach possibly the largest economic class that has ever been taught in the history of the world,” said Tabarrok in an interview. “Just realizing that technology made this possible made us excited.”

Tabarrok and Cowen developed the website themselves with some technical help from Mason’s Mercatus Center.

“We’re very low-tech,” Tabarrok said. “Basically it’s making videos, which we’ve done with power-points and a four dollar IPod app.”

Classes on MRU will consist of short videos that can be watched at any time after their release. Tabarrok promises there won’t be long lectures or “talking heads,” but instead there will be a lot of diagrams and pictures. Submission of content from users will be encouraged.

“It will be a big resource bank and have a ‘Wikipedia’ sort of feel as we gather more material,” Tabarrok said.

The first MRU course offered is covering Development Economics.

“One of the reasons we started with Development Economics is because the question of why some countries are rich and why some countries are poor is one of the most important questions in economics,” Tabarrok said. “Billions of people’s lives hang on this question. So it’s a widespread concern and interest.”

Tabarrok believes the program will develop a large audience spanning many countries.

“We have a pretty good reputation for teaching economics both from the blog and from our textbook so people are signing up [for MRU],” Tabarrok said. “We’re excited about it.”

Tabarrok and Cowen hope to one day get academic accreditation for MRU courses.

“In the United States, the cost of education is going way up, and in the rest of the world the demand for education is going way up, in China, and India and so forth,” Tabarrok said. “As of yet, they don’t have the infrastructure and the universities to satisfy that demand.”

Another goal of the website is to provide courses focused on different countries around the world.

“We have a special section on India, and we also have another professor working on Mexico and we hope that once we’ve launched, other people from around the world will be encouraged to create sections on every major country in the world,” Tabarrok said. “We don’t have the knowledge to be able to do that. We want input from the students and from other people so we get that Wikipedia feel and to develop more country units.”

Marginal Revolution University’s first course, Development Economics, will begin October 1.

You can visit MRUniversity at

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