This is the first in a series of blog posts on MOOCs (massive open online courses).
In 2012, MOOCs gained so much prominence that they were written about in The Economist and The New York Times. Looking at what MOOCs potentially offer, it’s easy to see why they have taken the world of education by storm:
- MOOCs are free. (At least this is true for the vast majority of MOOCs now.)
- MOOCs are taught by real professors from top universities.
- The short videos used in MOOCs are said to be inspired by TED talks. They’re not anything like the videos of classroom lectures that have existed for quite some time. A 40-minute lecture can be boring even when you’re sitting in the classroom. Record that and you might get something that no-one would want to see! But the videos in many MOOCs are made only for those MOOCs. They’re not byproducts of classroom courses.
- Assignments, problem sets, and exams are not easy. A lot of e-learning content and courses out there mollycoddle learners. Not MOOCs. You have to be prepared to be challenged and even to fail. Most MOOCs have completion rates of around 10%.
- You get a really nice certificate if you pass the course. When you put in something like 10 hours a week for 12 weeks and pass a nerve-wracking final exam, a certificate doesn’t seem so trivial.
MOOCs do not usually carry formal course credits, but this is changing with some MOOC providers tying up with assessment centers. For the time being, MOOCs are largely about putting yourself through an intensive learning experience just because you want to learn something.
For those who wonder whether that’s a good-enough reason, consider this: 37,347 students from all around the world enrolled in a recent MOOC offered by edX. This 12-week MOOC, titled “Health in Numbers: Quantitative Methods in Clinical Public Health Research”, was offered by the Harvard School of Public Health. I was one of the roughly 5,000 students who completed this course. The completion rate (around 13%) may not seem high, but look at it this way: 5,000 students from dozens of countries completed a Harvard-level course together!
MOOCs have enormous potential for transforming education everywhere. Going by the debates they have ignited, they also have enormous potential to make people worry about the collapse of higher education as we know it.
I live in India, and I’m particularly interested in how MOOCs can supplement higher education in developing countries instead of being seen as a massive threat or, on the other extreme, met with apathy or disdain.
In the next post, I will write more about my experience learning in a MOOC.