By Corey Cohrs, February 2014
What are MOOCs?
Perhaps you’re already aware of the increasingly popular form of online learning. However, in case you’re not and you’re still catching up (like myself), let me fill you in! MOOC stands for ‘massive open online course,’ and is currently trending in the worlds of technology and education. These courses are designed to allow access to traditional course materials for an unlimited number of students, and often at no cost! Similar to the already existent online or distance learning format that most of us are familiar with, this is achieved through an interactive, online community through which students, professors, and teaching assistants virtually interact to facilitate learning. However, the primary distinction here is key words mentioned earlier. Those are, “free” and “unlimited students.”
Now, the question remains; are these MOOCs here to stay or are they simply a fad passing through our ever evolving world of technology? Well, back in the early stages of e-learning and online university courses, many of us likely would have scoffed at the notions of their long term practicality and effectiveness. Though when we look at the prevalence of online and distance learning courses today, they’re success has been far from negligible and they’re presence is only growing. That isn’t to say that MOOCs are necessarily, slowly approaching to revolutionize or replace the state of education as we know it, although I don’t believe they’ll be headed anywhere anytime soon either.
And here’s why: MOOCs offer a cost efficient means by which to promote and facilitate learning amongst many people that may not otherwise be presented with these learning opportunities. Beyond this, these courses are being offered by some of the top universities in the country, such as Harvard, Yale, Duke, and Stanford! What better of a free opportunity could you ask for? However, with all of the benefits comes some reason for doubt that the future of MOOCs will be setting fire to the current infrastructure of higher education as we know it.
For instance, such issues include how to standardize curriculum and grading across classes or programs, the lack of support systems available to students, current low completion and high drop-out rates, and finally, for how long programs would be able to sustain low or free tuition. After all, one has to consider how potential employers would compare these courses to traditional courses offered at brick and mortar universities, or even the online courses offered through them. How would an employer judge a student’s previous education without standardized grading or accreditation in some cases? Furthermore, how would graduate education programs handle the same issues when considering admission of students having completed their undergraduate education through MOOCs? These are issues that would need to be resolved prior to MOOCs further success as an accepted learning format.
Are MOOCS Here to Stay?
MOOCS may be here to stay. However, the degree of their presence in the education arena has yet to be determined. Given the current dynamics of education and economics in the U.S., I would be cautious in placing too much stock in their place. At the same time however, MOOCs do represent the current state of technology and the rapid growing of new means by which to extend the reach and affordability of education. For the time being though, I would consider MOOCs a great way to test the waters of learning for some, to learn something new or interesting or even to keep your brain stimulated following graduation. Beyond this, it’s going to take some time for the current state of education to catch up with our technology before MOOCs may see their full potential and revolutionize the world.
About the Author: Corey Cohrs is a PhD student studying behavior analysis and pediatric psychology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.