MOOCs: Classrooms of the Future

MOOCsMassive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), a form of online education, have emerged as an innovative method of teaching at an unprecedented pace. Founded in fall of 2011, Coursera, a leading MOOC, has reached enrollment of 3.1 million students worldwide as of April 2013. Coursera recently divulged plans to continue its rapid growth by partnering with 10 public universities and university flagships in the United States. Other online education companies have also been expanding. For example, in May, Georgia Tech announced its plans to partner with Udacity, another MOOC provider, to offer the first online master’s degree in computer science. Coursera’s cofounder, Andrew Ng explains that Coursera’s growth is part of a larger global movement towards online education. He recently stated, “Colleges are experimenting with different models state-by-state, but one thing is clear — the world is moving toward blended learning.” It is evident that online education is particularly beneficial to students in areas of the world who lack other education options, such as Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Coursera has demonstrated a global strategic push by translating many of its courses into eight foreign languages, which will be available to students in September 2013.

However, despite their advantages, MOOCs as alternative forms of education have been subject to criticism. Opponents argue that the lecture format of teaching employed by MOOCs inhibits possibilities for one-on-one communication between instructors and students. Course enrollment sizes (up to 50,000 students can be enrolled in a single course simultaneously) also limit constructive interactions between students and their instructors, as well as among the students themselves. In addition, although online courses experience incredibly high enrollment rates, completion numbers pale in comparison. Only about 10% of students initially enrolled in MOOCs actually end up finishing them. As a result, MOOC providers continue to investigate ways in which these deficient rates can be remedied. Fortunately, online courses also provide novel opportunities to evaluate teaching methods. Ng states, “We see every mouse click and keystroke. We know if a user clicks one answer and then selects another, or fast-forwards through part of a video.”

Reform of the U.S. education system is both imperative and inevitable. Overdue student loans are at an all-time high and only about half of recent college graduates are working in jobs in which their degrees are necessary. As MOOCs become more widespread and continue to develop, perhaps online courses can contribute to resolving these issues.

Posted by: Marjorie Baker

Sources: Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Venturebeat, New York Times, MIT Technology Review, Huffington Post, Forbes, Brookings

Photo credit: Library2010_028 courtesy of flickr user UTC Library

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