In a world that is rapidly changing, it is essential to continue learning. Udacity, a popular MOOC provider, states, “education is no longer a one-time event but a lifelong experience.” MOOCs, or “massive open online courses” reflect a need for lower cost, high-quality education. This need, combined with the advancements in technology and cultural changes have allowed for MOOCs to take off. MOOCs were first introduced in 2006 but really gained momentum in 2012. The general goals of the top MOOC providers are as follows:
- Provide access to high-quality education
- Provide a lower cost education
- Promote engagement
- Enhance teaching and learning on campus and online
- Inspire people personally and professionally
Through partnerships with universities and companies, MOOC providers have crowdsourced education to provide opportunities to a broader range of people. Here are some of the schools and partners of EdX, which was selected as the best MOOC provider in 2016:
Through partnerships with some of the best universities in the world and companies in Silicon Valley, MOOCs have been able to bring together vast amounts of knowledge in one space.
How does it work?
After making an account, you can browse the thousands of courses available on whatever MOOC provider you choose. I will use Coursera as an example because I actually started to take a course on this site before but never finished (which is very common: only 7% of people typically finish MOOCs).
Coursera uses a three-tier pricing/service model. Before choosing a course, you must decide what you want to get out of the course. Here are the available options:
- Courses on Coursera, which are available to anyone, will typically cost between
$29-$99. At the end of the 4-6 week course, you are awarded a certificate if you pass. These courses include “recorded video lectures, auto-graded and peer-reviewed assignments, and community discussion forums.” If the course does not come with a certificate, however, there is no fee associated with the course.
- Specializations, or if you want to focus on a specific career or educational goal, are priced between $39-$79. “You’ll complete a series of rigorous courses [and] tackle hands-on projects based on real business challenges,” which culminates in you receiving a Specialization Certificate to share with employers or use in networking. Specializations, like regular courses, are open to everyone, but take longer to complete, typically 4-6 months.
- Coursera also offers university-recognized online degrees. This program is offered as a substitute for traditional, high priced, hard to access education. In 1-3 years of studying, the students accepted to this degree program can earn an accredited masters degree. Due to the legitimacy of the certificate, increased length of study, and comprehension of the program, this program is priced $15,000-$25,000.
After completing the course, some people choose to add it to a resume, cover letter, or linked in profile. The importance employer’s place on MOOCs has been discussed since it’s inception.
Are MOOCs worth the time and money?
Research done by the Harvard Business Review has shown that MOOCs actually are benefitting many people. Research showed that “72% of survey respondents reported career benefits and 61% reported educational benefits.” HBR found that people there were tangible (ie found a new job, received a pay increase) and intangible (ie skills developed for a current job) as a result of taking MOOCs. In general, people of lower socioeconomic and educational backgrounds found MOOCs beneficial for career goals. An important point to consider is that “MOOCs really do help with education and career goals if you are willing to take the time.”
Colleen van Lent, Lecturer at University of Michigan sites many advantageous aspects of MOOCs from both the teaching and learning perspective. She doesn’t need to spend time worrying about grading, plagiarism, lucky guesses, and so on; she can focus on teaching. She also thinks that MOOCs provide students with more “general knowledge about the world.” MOOC certificates are not going to be enough to get you a job, or even an interview, according to van Lent, but some disagree with her. I might be one of those people. I think that taking MOOCs show initiative, that you are a self-starter, and that you are passionate about learning. I wouldn’t list a MOOC in the education section of my resume, however. This is probably what Colleen van Lent is getting at.
Despite the great potential MOOCs have to revolutionize the education segment, there’s been a lot of criticism. Here are some of the most common complaints:
- Digital literacy is necessary to use the platforms
- Time and effort may exceed what people are willing to put in for a free course
- Participants must self-regulate
- Impersonal nature of education
- Lack of strong feedback
- Language and translation barriers
Further concern was heard from the San Jose State University philosophy faculty, who wrote in an open letter to a Harvard/ MOOC Professor:
“Should one-size-fits-all vendor-designed blended courses become the norm, we fear two classes of universities will be created: one, well-funded colleges and universities in which privileged students get their own real professor; the other, financially stressed private and public universities in which students watch a bunch of video-taped lectures.”
Robert Zemsky, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, says MOOCs are “passed their peak; they came; they conquered very little” and now they are having sustainability issues with little prospects.
Dan Stober, when reporting on how Stanford participants did not think MOOCs lived up to the hopes or hype, sees that even if MOOCs fail to achieve what they had originally intended, there may be more to gain. MOOCs have provided huge amounts of data and insight about how students learn.
Final Takeaways and Opportunities
In all, the mixed feelings surrounding MOOCs could indicate that the strong institutions in place are not as easily disrupted as many may have thought. MOOCs are a great way to “up-skill” personally and professionally. I think that there are great opportunities for MOOCs, but this can only happen when there is a way to legitimize them. Clearly, the esteemed partners such as MIT and Harvard are not enough for the courses to be well recognized by employers. Is there an opportunity for further accreditation within companies? Surely employees would be further incentivized to expand their knowledge and skill base if the company they worked for recognized MOOCs in a more official way. Furthermore, what if universities recognized certain MOOC specializations to subsidize courses not offered on campus or enhance students current studies? MIT is now offering MicroMasters through EdX where you take the MOOC series, pass the exam(s), earn a credential, and then be qualified to earn an accelerated, on-campus master’s degree at MIT or another top university. This link between MOOC and universities shows the potential for future synergies in education. All in all, even though MOOCs may not have taken off in the way many people thought, they are an incredibly valuable resource.