Will MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) drive the future of education?

11 April 2004

Education of the Future

There have been a number of articles in the press recently looking at MOOCs (Massive open online learning courses), and the impact these will have on the way we learn both in tertiary education, and institutional / corporate training. So what makes these courses different? They are massive (hence the name), and are an open invitation for anyone around the globe to join in at a minimal cost, or sometimes even free, and are conducted purely online.

Let’s take a look at a few pros and cons of MOOCs:

Pros  

  • Low cost to students and corporations. The relatively low cost of these courses compared to traditional forms of education is one of the biggest contributors to the increasing uptake. “Deloitte predicts that by 2014, student registrations in MOOCs will be up 100% compared to 2012, to over 10 million courses.” They go on to say that enterprise training and continuing education  will see significant growth in 2014/2015, and are likely to be the fastest adopter of MOOCs.
  • Learn anywhere, anytime: MOOCs are a real game changer for those who would otherwise not have access to formal tertiary education due to distance, cost, language, and other time commitments (especially in developing countries). Rather than attend set lectures on given days at a university campus, MOOCs allow students to access course information at a time and place convenient to them.
  • Skill re-training: In an era so influenced by technology and outsourcing, the original skills we learnt at university or college may no longer last us a life time. The majority of professions need to continually update their skills to be relevant in today’s global workplace. MOOCs are likely to play an important part in this ongoing re-training, both for corporations and Governments looking to get people back into the workforce and increase productivity.

Cons

  • Completion Rate – One recent study quotes that 93% of students have failed to complete their chosen MOOC, with traditional forms of education having a much higher graduation rate (probably due to the cost and time invested, and the end qualification gained). It must however be noted that the analysis of these rates are complex, and to date, there has been no truly global study conducted on attrition rates of MOOC students. The reasons for the low completion rates of MOOCs are most likely due to the nature of the study involved – whereby students are enrolling due to curiosity of a subject matter, or to test out the format of online learning.
  • Credentials – Probably the biggest current drawback to MOOCs is the fact that credentials for this type of course are not recognised by enterprise, governments or educational institutions in the same way that traditional tertiary qualifications are. For MOOCs to really take off, the three groups mentioned above will need to start recognising that hours put into a specific course structure are equal, whether they are learnt online, or in a physical classroom. As more respected universities and educational institutions embrace MOOCs rather than see them as a threat to their current business model – wider acceptance will surely follow. In fact, the US Department of Education has recently decided to provide funding based on the demonstration of competencies rather than hours spent in the classroom – let’s hope this kind of endorsement spreads further afield.
  • Social Experience – Advocates of MOOCs may in fact argue that having the ability to collaborate with people from all over the world, provides a more enriching social experience than setting foot in a traditional university campus. However, for younger students, “college life” in itself provides a great lesson in time management with a far more structured routine and environment. It’s also a chance to get involved in broader social activities within the university and make life long friendships.

There have been various studies looking into the educational outcomes of MOOCs versus traditional educations, with early indications showing that the results are fairly simialr, if not favouring online learning (which is quite surprising given traditional institutions have had hundreds of years to perfect teaching and learning methods).  Given these findings, and the various pros we’ve examined, I’m sure that MOOCs will continue to gain traction in the future. Whilst there will always be a demand for traditional educational institutions, and the qualifications these afford, there looks certain to be a growing number of providers to teach in the online world, particularly when it comes to enterprise and corporate training. The debate needs to continue to ensure that the qualifications and credits obtained through MOOCs are universally accepted, to ensure that more people around the globe have access to quality, low cost learning.

At the end of the day – learning is learning (no matter where it takes place)!

Further Reading: 

Below is an example of a current MOOC for global entrepreneurship

15-week MOOC for global entrepreneurship training launches.

Referenced in this article, Deloitte’s Technology, Media & Telecommunications Predictions 2014, which goes into more detail on MOOCs, and many other tech trends.

Download the report here

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