MOOC: The Future of Education Or Not

Online education has been on the rise in the past decade and has taken the world by a storm, primarily because of its global reach coupled with interactive and on-demand learning. Through this blog post, I would like to introduce the concept of MOOCs and address the issue of MOOCs as a potential replacement for schools and universities, whether its even possible or not. Watch the short video below for an introduction to MOOC.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course and is a well carved out solution to address the issue of accessibility to education and the rising cost of education. As stated above, MOOC supports life-long networked learning because all one needs to access a MOOC is an internet connection and you are virtually connected to your instructors and peers across the world, the very reason its called “Open.” MOOCs in the present times are available on a wide variety of topics across different domains offered by multiple vendors. The courses lessons are an interleaved set of slides, videos/lectures and interactive exercises with computer based instantaneous feedback systems. This makes such courses all the more desirable and improve understanding of the subject.

Even though MOOCs are extremely valuable and improve the reach of education globally, according to Mike Bergelson’s article, there are some downsides of MOOCs. According to him, accreditation is one such issue that makes MOOCs undesirable because not every industry accepts skill development via MOOCs as standard education. In other cases, some MOOCs seem to be extremely simplified,¬† not enough to cater to the needs of the industry. Also, flexibility, the very factor that makes MOOCs learner-friendly often cause course abandonment because of other commitments. Let’s try to understand MOOCs better through the infographic below, see how students and professors react to MOOCs and understand the reasons behind their reactions.

The infographic above is very informative and explains well the effectiveness of MOOCs. Coursera, EDX and Udacity are the major players in the market along with a few others such as Udemy and Canvas with over 1200 courses offered in 9 different disciplines. 40% of MOOC users come from developing countries and that defines the success of MOOCs because people from developing countries who otherwise may not have had access to quality education, now have access to free courses from top-level educators from world-class educators. Besides being a great tool of education in the developing countries, MOOC also serves well to working professionals, retired personnel unemployed people who cherish the flexible nature of the courses and some of whom may not be comfortable attending college for higher education. MOOC also provides its users with the freedom to enroll in just one course of interest rather than following a rigorous curriculum at a university. Let’s see what Daphne Koller, the co-founder of Coursera and a Professor of Computer Science at Stanford has to say about MOOC.

As per the statistics discussed above, we see that the cost of education has increased by about 559% since 1985, yes you read that number right, its 559%. This makes education inaccessible and unaffordable to a major population, killing their chance for a better quality of life. When Andrew Ng, the co-founder of Coursera offered his Machine Learning class online, it had an enrollment of about 100,000 students, and to put that in perspective, to reach that number of audience traditionally, he would have to teach the same course at Stanford for the next 250 years. The outreach is massive and takes full advantage of the telecom revolution, to reach the goal of education for all. Anant Agarwal, the founder and CEO of edX and a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the MIT also shares his views on MOOC in the video below.

He talks about reimagining education or redesigning it from the ground up instead of fixing the calcified education system. He also talks about embracing the role of technology in education, rather than resisting it, because that is what students want in this modern age. Also, MOOC seems to be a great alternative for in-person classes especially during the pandemic that we are going through, but the key factor that is missing from MOOCs is in-person interaction. Even though Anant states that they some of their patrons have used a combination of in-person and online lectures using edX, at the end he mentions the need for no lecture halls or just one lecture hall for museum purposes, I feel he is missing the point of in-person  peer interaction there.

In my opinion, classrooms in many cases serve as a better mode of communication and interaction, without the barriers of online communication such as connectivity, fatigue caused by online resources and indiscipline due to the flexibility factor. Classrooms promote social interaction and improve social skills in a way that online education can never achieve. Overcoming the fear of presenting in front of a computer is way easier than presenting in front of your peers in a classroom and that is one of the reasons millennials feel introverted or alone even though they are connected to the world 24/7 via social media. Also, another factor that makes classrooms more desirable is that when you enter a classroom, you are motivated to learn by your peers and the energy of your instructor. Even though that may or may not be true in all cases but in case of MOOCs, the energy or motivation doesn’t translate very well through online platforms. In case of MOOCs, even the most disciplined might face the issue of abandonment because MOOCs are generally flexible and free, often taking the backseat in ones priority list.

MOOCs are great for students who otherwise don’t have access to quality education either due to reach or affordability and also for those who desire to learn at their own pace, but there are still, a lot of issues that hamper efficacy of such courses becoming mainstream, hence the question still stands, “Are MOOCs the future of education or not?”



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