Technology folk love their acronyms. You have RAM and ROM, DVDs and HD. You can send a PDF or download a BMP. Or maybe you want to use HTML to create a website or use a VGA cable to connect a monitor. But MOOC? That is probably a new one for most people. Whether you’re familiar with the term or not, if you work in education, you’ll definitely be affected by the emergence of MOOCs, if not today then someday soon.
MOOCs are Massively Open Online Courses that allow students to network with people from around the world and learn through their participation and interaction. While the acronym is a little awkward, the unabbreviated title is very descriptive. MOOCs are massive because they draw students from around the world and because many courses put no limitations on the number of students who can enroll. MOOCs are open since many courses are free for students who want to take the class (unless they want to earn credit from the institution). And lastly, MOOCs are online courses since the content and interaction occurs completely online. At first, some educators may see MOOCs simply as a difference in scale from a traditional online course. While a traditional online class may have 30-50 students, a MOOC can have hundreds or thousands of students taking the class. For instance, a MOOC offered by Harvard this spring had over 100,000 people enrolled in the course and over 10,000 students take the midterm for a grade. The numerics aside, however, MOOCs also offer learners a more open learning experience than a traditional course would. Rather than organizing course contents and participation inside an institutional course management system, MOOCs distribute course materials and communication across a variety of platforms including Twitter, Facebook, blogs and wikis. All of the course material and interaction is out in the open for the class to access whenever they want, not just when they are students at the institution.
So, why are MOOCs such an ominous presence in education? To start, last week Harvard and MIT jumped head first into the MOOC market with edX, a collaborative endeavor that hopes to offer five free online courses this Fall. The edX announcement comes a few weeks after Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan announced their partnership with Coursera to offer online courses where students can “learn from world-class professors, watch high quality lectures, achieve mastery via interactive exercises, and collaborate with a global community of students.” For free.
MOOCs have the ability to disrupt traditional higher education as we know it. When Harvard, Penn, MIT and Princeton start offering their classes online for free, it changes the landscape of admissions and recruitment nationwide. It’s like a four star restaurant has suddenly popped up in every neighborhood and is offering Filet Mignon for free. How does any other restaurant compete with THAT?? That’s what MOOCs can potentially do to higher education. With 25% of graduating seniors carrying more than $50,000 in debt from college, MOOCs will undoubtedly attract students who want to learn content without the financial burden of traditional institutions.
Still wondering about MOOCs? Be sure to check out the following videos which should help to explain MOOCs in more depth.