Mooooooooooooc? No, its not a noise a cow makes. Rather, Mooc stands for ‘Massive Open Online Course.’ Moocs provide pupils with video lectures, texts, sets of problems as well as interactive forums that aim to promote discussions between students and teachers.
These free online courses cater to thousands of students at any given time and have been endorsed by Harvard, Princeton and ore recently by institutions such as King’s College London, Bristol and Birmingham University in the UK. The launch of Moocs has sparked debate over what the online courses should be used for, how they should be valued and whether they provide an inferior alternative to traditional learning. We’re here to sum up the pros and cons of this oddly-acronymed development in learning.
Can it be said that Moocs furnish a direct path to a fair and accessible education for all? Do they really promote collaboration and open access? Many sceptics seem to think not.
Gideon Rosen from Princeton University has voiced his concerns over the possible mass introduction of online learning at university, especially as Moocs provide a much cheaper alternative to traditional learning. It is argued that the cost effectiveness of Moocs could risk the majority of courses being taught online thus causing teacher-pupil interaction to be a thing of the past. According to Rosen, Moocs risk the scholar becoming “a genuinely rare bird.”
What’s more, professors at San Jose State University have voiced their fear that online learning will create two classes of higher education: on one hand “well-funded colleges and universities where privileged students get their own professor” and on the other “financially stressed private and public universities in which students watch a bunch of video taped lectures and the professor is a glorified teaching assistant.” Maybe then it can be argued that the rapid introduction of Moocs only risks making traditional higher education even more elitist.
There is no doubt that individual support is limited when taking a Mooc. Thousands of students can study the course at the same time, thereby making personal support impossible. This serves to explain why Mooc completion rates can be as low as 7%, as shown in a study by Katy Jordan, a PhD student at the Open University. Online study requires a fairly advanced set of learning skills as well as a huge amount of self-discipline; this makes it more challenging for many students to get the most from the courses.
Moreover, although Moocs were originally introduced as a simple way of learning online, companies such Coursera and Udacity have made Moocs into a for-profit enterprise. Jonathon Rees, Professor of History at Colorado State University argues that Mooc providers, Coursera in particular, focus more on the quantity of courses provided to students, rather than the quality of the courses themselves. This has led to low quality courses, some that have actually disappeared whilst live on the platform, or whose Professors were actually trying to collect data from students rather than teach them.
On the other hand, if Moocs are considered as a form of supplementary education, to be engaged with alongside university or work, the Mooc vs. Traditional University debate is made redundant. It seems that a course that does not provide direct teacher to pupil contact cannot replace the benefits of traditional learning. If Moocs are considered, not as a replacement for university, but rather as an addition to, or reinforcement of education, there is no questioning that they are a positive development.
David McDonald, a Mathematics Graduate at UCL comments: “after taking two courses on Udacity, I am now working as a web developer at a start-up, it wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. It seems that many of the online courses are made with employability taken into account and some have links with businesses; this is something that students may not get from their degree course.”
Some argue that employers give little value to Moocs at the moment. Nevertheless, it is early days. As Moocs become increasingly used, they will come to be more widely recognised by employers. The world is becoming more and more digital everyday; digital education is only the next step in this inevitable process.
Given that the world is also becoming increasingly global, Moocs serve as a way to export education on a global scale. As Mike Sharples, chair of Educational Technology, has explained to The Guardian that the UK and the US need to consider ways in which they can keep up with universities in China, India and South America where some of the world’s best courses are being offered online.
Digital learning still requires substantial development and improvement. It is necessary to monitor the quality of online courses just as closely as those that are offline. However, Moocs cannot be rejected all out: within them there lies a significant opportunity to promote an accessible and collaborative addition to traditional education.
By Hermione Pagni, UCL Graduate and Mini Marketeer in the Making