What is a MOOC? 

Simple, it’s a massive open online course, where major universities make lectures and learning materials available to the public.  Ivy league universities such as Harvard and Yale have offered their courses to the public.  There are programs such as Coursera and Udacity that facilitate courses, allowing the general public to take college level courses, for free in most cases.

What is the MOOC environment like?

Well, I signed up for a course with Coursera at the beginning of this semester.  I was in a “class” with 120k students.  Yes, you read properly, 120k students.  We were learning about programming an Android application.  The structure was similar to any other online course.  There were weekly lectures, reading materials, assessments and projects.  The professor was extremely personable and often posted helpful tidbits that I found personally valuable.  There was a forum for students to discuss different concepts amongst one another.  The response times were almost instant, mostly due to the number of students in the class, as well as the different time zones.  The professor informed us that there were students represented from many different countries and at different levels of experience.  Because of this, the student forum area was extremely helpful because there appeared to be experts that signed up for the class solely to help out others — this concept alone was both amazing and helpful.

MOOOORE on MOOOOCs

There’s buzz around the water cooler that MOOCs are the future of education.  I read an interesting article about MOOCs, which speaks to how MOOCs will change the future because they will allow people who did not have access to education to now have access. The author of the article, Thomas Friedman’s assumption is that people do not go to college because of financial reasons.  He also believes that MOOCs will push educational decision makers to make changes in the archaic educational standards.   He’s been known to speak to the mentality shift in major organizations from hiring people with degrees, to hiring people with a specific skill set.  Companies such as Google and Microsoft have been known to state that many educational institutions aren’t teaching students the skill sets that they need to operate their businesses.  MOOCs can help fill the gap.  Friedman believes that the challenge will be figuring out a system to award credit and/or certification to students that have successfully completed a MOOC.  I agree.

What do I think?

Well, there are both pros and cons to MOOCs, I’ll list what I’ve discovered from my personal experiences with them:

Pros

Free: Let’s face it, we all love to save money, and a free education seems almost too good to be true.

Supplemental Education: Going back to school has led to me scratching my head a few times around concepts that I just simply could not grasp. However, MOOCs have been a great way to supplement my education.  For instance, Yale University’s Modern Poetry MOOC has been instrumental to my learning process this semester.  Coupling what my professor teaches, with the lectures from the Yale University professors has been wildly beneficial.

Working at your own pace: Some MOOCs simply provide the materials for online students to learn at their own pace.  There’s no real follow up, the information is just available for us to consume when we need it. This is very useful for people that aren’t seeking a structured learning experience. Even better for people that are updating a skill set, or using the information for a work project, or even just for the knowledge alone.

Ala Carte Education: Want to learn how to build an app?  Or how to design a website?  Great!  Instead of there being classes that only teach a certain paradigm, there’s complete courses with a “how to” feel.  See it as being “How to setup Quickbooks for your business” as opposed to “Accounting 101”.

Cons

No Credit: When completing a MOOC, students do not receive college credit, so it’s still difficult to use what you’ve learned to gain employment.  Some MOOC programs offer certificates (for a fee) to validate that a course has been complete.  However, with MOOCs being relatively new, not many organizations will recognize the validity in these certifications.  However, the cost of the certificates are very minimal compared to the cost of a full out education, so having these certifications on a resume can only help, not hurt.

Student-to-Teacher Ratio:  For students that enjoy the classroom-like environment, a MOOC can be a difficult transition.  It is impossible for teachers to give individual feedback in a MOOC environment.  A student can quickly feel lost if and when he/she doesn’t fully understand a concept.  Personally, I feel as though this is the cause for the less than 10% success rates that MOOCs have thus far.

Time Management/Self-Motivation:  Just as any online class, the student has to be self motivated or success becomes difficult.  However, this is escalated within the MOOC environment because there’s even less structure than what’s provided in a traditional learning environment.  Simply put, for people to succeed, they need to be already technically savvy and be more than willing to put in the personal time in order to be successful.

“Information is NOT knowledge”: I believe that some MOOC programs (not all), struggle between teaching and simply providing information.  Information help people obtain knowledge, but it’s not knowledge.  Simply making information available cannot replace the teaching process and what teachers bring to the table.  Information is just facts, teachers infuse these facts with experience and give students access to their minds.  Some MOOCs have found the balance between teaching and manufacturing information, some haven’t.

The bare bones… 

Bottom line, MOOCs are a powerful tool that give a glimpse into the future of education.  My school has already started to incorporate MOOCs into the curriculum and I am grateful for my school’s leaders understanding the benefits to these programs.  However, I don’t believe that MOOCs are developed enough to withstand as an only means of education.  MOOCs are great for people who want to hone and develop their skill set.  They are great for students who need another means of learning what they are learning in school.  They are great for a person that want to learn one concept on their own. Finally, I believe they are a great gap closer between what companies need students to learn in order to have the skill set the companies need and what schools have been teaching.

 

Mira is a Senior Full Stack, specializing in Web Applications developed in the healthcare industry.

2 thoughts on “MOOCs – What’s the hype all about?!?

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