Massive Open Online Courses are leveraging today's technology to provide (typically) free access to world class education.
Only the proverbial ostrich (you know, the one with it's head in the sand) could look at the growing popularity of MOOCs and not acknowledge that technology has the potential to radically transform how education is delivered and the way that we learn. While change is not always a good thing, courses that are convenient and accessible across the world, and are often free, surely have a lot of good things going for them.
“MOOC” stands for Massive Open Online Course, and the number of institutions offering MOOCs is growing quickly. Thanks to increasing media attention and expanding offerings, interest in MOOCs has taken a significant leap forward in the last year (further attested to in this Google Search Insights graph).
Wikipedia's entry for MOOCs explains that, “MOOCs are founded on the theory of connectivism and an open pedagogy based on networked learning. Typically, participation in a MOOC is free; however, some MOOCs may charge a fee in the form of tuition if the participant seeks some form of accreditation.”
According to Educause's “7 Things You Should Know About MOOCs”, the first MOOC is widely thought to be a course titled “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge,” which was co-taught by George Siemens and Stephen Downes at the University of Manitoba, delivered to 25 tuition-paying students but offered at the same time to around 2,300 students from the general public who took the online class at no cost.
A sampling of the current state of the MOOC
Today's MOOC offerings are expanding rapidly in terms of academic subjects covered, numbers of institutions offering them, and students partaking in them. To provide a sense of the widely varied approaches that are being taken with the creation and delivery of MOOCs, here's a sampling of start-ups, major players, and a few popular individual courses:
- Udemy: Making no bones about it, the ‘About' blurb on the home page of the Udemy site states, “Our goal is to disrupt and democratize education by enabling anyone to learn from the world's experts.” They have hundreds of thousands of students taking courses from their selection of hundred of classes courses covering a vast array of subjects. They have both paid and free courses, and these include courses from many different universities.
- Coursera: This growing powerhouse in the world of MOOCs, Coursera currently hosts courses from Princeton University, Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and University of Pennsylvania. They offer dozens of courses, covering subjects from “A History of the World” to “Vaccines”. These courses are non-credit, but many colleges are starting to consider the possibility of offering credit for satisfactory completion of MOOC courses.
- Udacity: As of the writing of this article, recent start-up Udacity is offering only a handful of course, all in the computer sciences field. Founded by three roboticists who believed that much of the educational value of their university classes could be offered online, over 160,000 students enrolled in their first offering, “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.” Pretty impressive.
- Creativity & Multicultural Communication from SUNY Empire State College: This course was offered as both a MOOC and a for-credit course at the same time. The course was a ‘connectivist' course that mixed a variety of activities to facilitate learning and encouraged the use of selections from a wide variety of web-based tools for making a record of learning activities as students consume, remix and repurpose content (learn more on this ‘how it works‘ page).
- Change.mooc.ca: This course is just wrapping up, and has leveraged a mix of over 30 innovative thinkers, researchers, and scholars from the field of instructional technology, from 11 different countries. Each week, one of these professors or researchers introduces his or her central contribution to the field.
What does the future hold?
It's going to be interesting to see how the MOOC movement, along with open course initiatives like MIT's OpenCourseWare, evolve in the coming years, and how these developments relate to traditional higher education. If even a small number of universities and colleges start offering or accepting credits for these types of courses, it could easily grow into a larger trend, and lower the overall cost of completing a degree. Could this reshape how students earn college credit? Is this ultimately a harbinger of free higher education, or will it evolve into something else entirely? What do you think?
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