Massive Open Online Courses, abbreviated as MOOCS, are the latest in the series of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) geared to revolutionize the system of higher education in developed and developing countries . As the individual terms that make it up suggest, MOOC offers open and free of cost access to learning resources in the form of video tutorials, webinars, readings, problem-sets etc. It is massive in the sense that thousands of students can register and learn simultaneously by taking the course over the internet . The term course signifies the structured and coherent curriculum design that provides the students a foundation as well as direction.
One might point out that Open Education Resources (OER) or Open Courseware (OCW) also exhibits the same features. So how is MOOC different from OER or OCW? The answer lies in the following keywords: dynamic, collaborative, assessment and accreditation. As opposed to OCWs, a MOOC course offers the students the opportunity to add to the curriculum and course design. It is highly collaborative in nature with resource material sourced from different places and formats.
The registrants for the course are referred to as the participants, for they come together, share their ideas, brainstorm and make the learning process enriching for themselves, the other participants and the course instructor as well. The course instructor gets the chance to obtain and analyze real time feedback on the course content, and also to monitor the various ideas and perspectives that emerge from collaboration. These ideas and concepts can be included in the curriculum to make it all the more useful .
There is a professor or instructor associated with MOOC, who conducts it as he would conduct his regular class. The course maybe divided over several weeks with prescribed readings for each week followed by a set of assessment exercises. The students are encouraged to post their responses through blogs and comments and can opt for review by instructor or other participants in the course. Despite the submission and assessment criteria, participants enrolled for a MOOC enjoy high level of learning flexibility . First of all, assessment and peer review are optional. They can view and complete the readings according to their schedule from any location they desire. Moreover, inability to finish the prescribed syllabus will not lead to failing a grade. The primary motive is to learn and be knowledgeable, and for that, the students have to be self-motivated. Moreover, if a course and its content are interesting, motivation will follow.
Another important feature of a MOOC is that it is now being accredited by universities offering the course . The participants can opt to receive a verification certificate upon successful completion of the course. Open Courseware do not have the option of assessment and accreditation. They consider knowledge as the reward of learning; MOOCs consider that a participant might need a verification certificate as a record of his learning for all the practical purposes .
According to , ever since its evolution in 2012, the MOOC technology has caused disruptions in the realm of higher education, forcing the educators as well as education industry (if it may be so called) to rethink a few things:
- The position of the instructor
- The utility of traditional methods of classroom learning
- The economic models for disseminating education
- The overall role of Universities in facilitating the process of education
Every time a new technology is experimented with to facilitate knowledge, the role of instructor comes under the scanner. Is the teacher replaceable? Can the students learn everything they want if they are provided with the course material? Is their self-motivation enough to see them through till the end of the course? The answer to these questions is no. While some of the students are motivated enough to learn on their own, the significance of a teacher’s role in education cannot be refuted. In the case of MOO courses, their USP lies in the credentials of the instructor who has designed the course and the University offering the course. The instructor’s role has become multidimensional in that he acts as the facilitator of the collaboration between the students .
Massive Open Online Courses are offered over the internet, enabling large-scale participation from students from diverse geographical and cultural backgrounds. If the universities acted as the melting pot of cultures and identities in local area, collaborative MOOC platforms bring together participants from highly cultural backgrounds in an enriching learning environment. The traditional methods of classroom teaching are questioned as to whether they constrict learning and whether the flexible environment of MOOC empowers learning.
Next, the large-scale commercialization of expert-oriented model of education has rendered knowledge a highly valuable commodity, beyond the reach of many who cannot afford it. The creation of Open Courseware and Open Educational Resources had restored the status of knowledge as a ‘public good,’ which is non-excludable and non-rivalrous . When assessment, grading, and accreditation met Open Courseware, they resulted in MOOC and offered students and professionals a chance to study specialized courses offered by the best instructors in the world. A Harvard aspirant may not realize his dream of studying comparative media at the university because of constraints like competitiveness and high cost of admission . However, he or she can take the online course on comparative media offered on edX, a joint MOOC platform initiative by Harvard and MIT. This is not to say that universities and the lucrative degrees offered by them would become redundant. They will continue to hold their importance, especially when it comes to the treatment of degrees as a measure of professional and academic competence .
Talking about recognition, the MOOCs offered by renowned universities like Cambridge, Oxford, MIT, Harvard and Ivy League members, may soon come to be recognized by the industry. The certificate, once it gains high acceptability, can add to the resume of the students as well as employed professionals. It might be placed in-line with the open-certifications offered by Oracle or Microsoft to the developers and network administrators. This way, the MOOCs offer a lucrative chance to students to study courses as diverse as ‘Media as explained by Google’ (offered by Coursera) and ‘The Camera Never Lies – A Photojournalistic View of History’ (offered by Coursera)
Advancements in the application of ICTs in the field of education have made it possible for students to learn according to their convenience and at no cost to them. However, MOOCs, though they are considered disruptive, are not perfect substitutes for classroom teaching and university system of education . More so, the learners in developing and underdeveloped countries, at whom every emerging technology (including MOOC) is targeted face many infrastructural and technological glitches. The internet accessibility is still on the lower side and technological savvy-ness is not pervasive . Unless conditions for smooth functioning and seamless operations are ensured, it would be pointless to consider MOOCs as capable of replacing the college based learning. If not substitute, online courses can supplement classroom teaching, leading to what is known as Blended Learning.
One of the powerful components of MOO courses is their content and the methods used for delivering the content. The highly specialized content is pooled from different sources such as blogs, research papers, illustrations, video games, TED Talks, YouTube, and delivered via equally diverse media like video lectures, audio podcasts, recording etc. Every segment is divided into smaller chunks of content, which makes it easier for the students to understand what is taught/presented .
The teachers can augment classroom learning by showing such a video and generating discussion around it, motivating students to present their perspectives and think out of the box. Blended learning combines the best of both the worlds: the knowledge from the best in the world with the personalized touch of a teacher who is able to anticipate the specific needs of all the students in the classroom and adapt his teaching style according to that . He or she can also create courses and offer them as MOOC on recognized platforms. On a more visionary scale, the advancements in technology have made it possible for colleges to create and maintain their own MOOC platforms .
At this juncture, an importing point to consider is that Harvard and MIT universities have started edX as a philanthropic activity because they can afford it. A local, not-so-famous, and well-off college will need to devise a proper business model in order to operate start its own MOOC platform. Currently, the revenue generating solution available with MOOC operators involves charging registration fee from the candidates and revenue from advertisements .
Massive Open Online Courses face issues of high filtering and dropout rates, wherein the participants tend to lose interest and stop following the course readings soon after registration or a couple of weeks into the course . Centralized creation of content and its universal proliferation creates the threat of homogenized knowledge, which does not bode well for the development of ingenuous skills amongst the participants . Even the most universal principles of science and philosophy are best understood when applied in context of local context and culture.
Restoration of the status of knowledge as a public good, available to everyone irrespective of his or her caste, creed, and economic status is a vision that has been realized to an extent by the development of Massive Open Online Courses. These have challenged the system of university-based education and have also developed interactional capacities (thus combated refutations like they are asynchronous in nature, promote isolated environment of learning and lack personal touch). The students and learners have the best means of learning at their disposal and can also contribute towards expanding the knowledge base. The advantages of MOOCs are many and here to stay and co-exist with the universities and methods of classroom teaching.
Cormier, D., & Siemens, G. (2010, August 5). Through the open door: open courses as research, learning, and engagement. EDUCAUSE Review , pp. 30-9.
Lee, O., & Im, Y. (2014). Innovation of Higher Education in the Globalized Era. In R. Huang, Kinshuk, & J. K. Price, ICT in Education in Global Context (pp. 221-247). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
Marginson, S. (2012, August 12). Yes, MOOC is the global higher education game changer. Retrieved October 11, 2014, from University World News: http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=2012080915084470
Riddle, R. (2012, September 17). MOOCs: What role do they have in higher education? Retrieved October 11, 2014, from DUKE Centre for Instructional Technology: http://cit.duke.edu/blog/2012/09/moocs-what-role-do-they-have-in-higher-education/
Stepan, A. (2013). Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) Disruptive Impact on Higher Education.
Vardi, M. Y. (2012). Will MOOCs destroy academia? Communications of the ACM, 55(11) , 5.
Yuan, Li; Powell, Stephen; and JISC CETIS. (2013, March). MOOCs and Open Education: Implications for Higher Education. Celtis White Paper.