Hailed as the future of education by colleges, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are slowly coming into prominence around the world.
Many colleges, including Yale, offer MOOCs, college courses that people can take for free but do not earn credit for completing. As of now, their main purpose is allowing students to prepare for college and learn new information about basic subjects without having to pay.
MOOCs also offer unprecedented convenience and efficiency, as the lectures can be listened to, watched or read. The courses are also laid out like typical college classes, with a total of 37 lectures, three midterm exams and one final exam. MOOCs are both free and similar to college courses. Basically, one can take college courses without the cost.
Going to college, however, is completely different from K-12. Not only is the workload significantly larger, but students face a lot more independence than they had while at home, making it even more difficult for them to focus and do well. But no more.
Imagine, if you will, that you are a college student. Fresh out of high school, a sheltered world full of orderly lines and extra credit. Now, however, you are in the real world, the big leagues.
You know that at the end of this summer, you will pack your bags and you will head off into the unknown. Now instead, imagine if all you had to do was wake up and walk over to your computer, log in and take your class. You spend a couple hours watching videos, then print out some worksheets to do for homework.
The homework isn’t actually graded– the only reason to even do it is to acquire a deeper understanding of the current topic. The grading for MOOCs differs from normal courses, as the only graded assignments in a MOOC are the three midterm exams and final.
Paying attention to the videos is therefore of utmost importance to the student who wishes to pass the class– with exams being the only source of grades, they are the single most vital aspect of the course.
Critics of MOOCs argue that the structure is limited and the course is too “impersonal.” Students are not required to turn in any work or see their teacher or classmates. Colleges typically tell potential students about their student-to-teacher ratio, implying that a more personal atmosphere and “facetime” are important parts of education.
The financial aspect of MOOCs is a big motivator to both parents and students, of course, as the cost of college is rising. MOOCs, on the other hand, are completely free as of now. While the cost is low, students do not earn credit for these courses.
Once they come to prominence, however, MOOCs will probably begin to cost money, especially if credit begins being offered for them. Students may one day be able to take all of their classes online for cheap and knowledge will again be for all to share, as it should be.
College has many major components, most of which can be fulfilled by MOOCs. The main reasons students attend college include education towards a degree, research and social aspects, such as parties.
Most students earn a Bachelor’s, or 4-year degree, from their time in college. A Bachelor’s degree typically requires between 110 and 130 credit hours, which can be easily completed online through MOOCs.
Research, on the other hand, can be just as important, if not more so, than education. A lot of universities, such as Duke University or Harvard, focus more on research than education. While these colleges also have large numbers of students that are working towards degrees, many students work with professors at the university towards being published and conducting research.
MOOCs cannot really sate the hunger for research, but students can still contact and work with their professor through social media. Besides simply focussing on their class, students can use their free time at home to further explore ideas that interest them.
The final major aspect of college, the social part, cannot be fulfilled by the minimal interaction present in MOOCs. Students cannot go out and party with their friends through the MOOC, but they are still at their home, so their friends from high school can still “hang out” with them.
Clubs and other social organizations, such as sports, are not present in MOOCs. Should students wish to participate in activities such as these, they need to find them outside of the class.
MOOCs are not a complete replacement for college and the college experience, but they still serve to prepare students for college and may someday provide an alternative to the current norm of attending a 4-year university. Having explored the structure and purpose of MOOCs, I asked myself once again: is this the future of education? I believe it is.