By Paulina Merino
Are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) a revolution in higher education or will they forever be just a form of knowledge sharing? Are MOOCs even a “real” education? Their proponents speak about energy, enthusiasm and change happening in today’s education sector and call it “education innovation” (Boyers, 2013). At the same time, many educators believe it to be a form of commercial transaction — distributing information rather than teaching it, pointing to a lack of interaction and the little or no value of completion certificates (Gitanjali, 2013).
What is a MOOC?
As Koller (2012) describes them, MOOCs are massive, in that even thousands of students can be enrolled in the same class at once. They are offered online, which makes them accessible around the globe and affordable. Most importantly, they are teaching events — courses, usually two to several weeks long, with structured teaching, assignments and progression of instructions. They are also developed and taught by highly qualified educators, from top-tier universities, including Princeton, Stanford, Brown, Columbia and Duke. And, maybe most importantly, they are free. Consequently, MOOCs offer an incredible array of subjects to curious minds from anywhere and any budget.
MOOCs in the muck
What is wrong with MOOCs then? Why the dramatic title of this article? The most frequently repeated argument against MOOCs is that they provide limited opportunity for interaction between the professor and the student. A student can move through an entire course with little-to-no direct communication with the professor and receive feedback only from their peers (Boyers, 2013). Stacey (2013) furthers this argument, citing an example of K-12 teachers and their contract agreements about limited class sizes. How can someone effectively teach thousands of students simultaneously?
Evolution in education
Some twenty years ago, online teaching was considered vastly inferior to the classroom-based instruction. The credentials offered via online courses were questioned and only brick-and-mortar schools were considered “real” universities. Are we now facing similar phenomenon? Are traditionalists blocking social media’s evolution as a teaching tool because it questions the values on which they built their careers? Many disparage MOOCs dramatic dropout rate. Gijtani (2013) cites a completion rate of 10 percent or less as proof of MOOCs’ ineffectiveness, noting that those who try them lose interest even before the course is over. However, Haber’s 2013 review of completion/dropout data showed a 48 percent completion rate for students who watched at least one video and completed one assignment in a course. Similarly, some are critical of MOOCs’ limited interactivity while others contend interactivity can be achieved through creative use of technology (Koller, 2013).
They have a place
The ever-growing costs of higher education paired with high unemployment among college graduates may simply force young people to look for non-standard ways of learning. Like many others, I think MOOCs offer real benefits to knowledge-thirsty minds across the globe and that they will only gain in popularity. In 1943, IBM Chairman Thomas Watson said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Sometimes what we know is just not enough to accurately predict the future.
What do you think?
Have you ever taken a MOOC? What was the subject, and do you feel it was as effective as other types of courses you’ve taken? Have you ever taught a MOOC? Were students engaged? Were you overwhelmed by the class size?
Koller, D. (2012, August 1). What we’re learning from online education Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6FvJ6jMGHU&noredirect=1
Boyers, J. M. (September 2013). Online Done Right: The importance of human interaction for student success. eLearn Magazine. Retrieved from http://elearnmag.acm.org/archive.cfm?aid=2524201
Haber, Jonathan (25 November 2013). MOOC Attition Rates – Running the Numbers, in College. in HuffPost (December 14, 2014). Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-haber/mooc-attrition-rates-runn_b_4325299.html
Stacey, Paul (May 2013). The Pedagogy of MOCCs. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://edtechfrontier.com/2013/05/11/the-pedagogy-of-moocs/
Gitanjali, M. (December 2013). MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) Redefining Learning. [Online Portal]. Retrieved from http://www.mbaskool.com/business-articles/operations/8611-mooc-massive-open-online-courses-redefining-learning.html