MOOCs: A New Page In Higher Education

Imagine a future in which you can take lessons from the best professors in the world, have complete freedom to choose whichever course you want, attend the classes from home at whatever time you prefer, study at your own pace and that too for free. You probably think I am kidding. Well, I am not. And I am not talking about some distant future either. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), a new trend in higher education, which is generating a lot of buzz in the western countries, has made all of this possible.

MOOCs are online courses offered by various web platforms, such as Coursera, Udacity, Udemy and edX. The courses on offer range from Intro to Computer Science to The Modern and the Postmodern to Economic Issues, Food and You to How to Build a Start-up. The courses are mostly short term and each course runs for a few weeks (note- Udacity does not have a calendar based schedule).

Every course has an instructor, who sets the syllabus and looks after everything else the course consists of, including lectures, assignments and evaluation. A course is designed in such a way that students can also jump in the middle and every student can cover the syllabus at her own pace. Students are supposed to watch the video lectures put up on the website and also do the extra-reading that is suggested. Evaluation is mostly in the form of quizzes and writing assignments. Interaction among students and between students and teachers is highly encouraged. Since the courses are add-on courses and not a replacement for university degrees, syllabus is designed in such a way that students have to dedicate only a few hours a week for studies.

MOOCs is in essence an extension of distance learning. But what makes it almost a revolutionary concept is the sheer scale it can achieve at very low costs. A typical course can enroll around 60,000 students at one time. Anybody anywhere in the world with a broadband connection can sign up as there are no qualification prerequisites for most of the courses.

Internet has transformed many industries since its emergence, including music, publishing and journalism. It has changed their distribution models and revenue streams. It has democratized information by cutting down access costs. Some experts feel the same will happen in the higher education sector with MOOCs gaining traction. Cost, convenience, reach and variety of courses are some of the strong points of MOOCs. If the concept goes mainstream, it can truly democratize the education sector.

But thinking it will replace our current university education system will be foolish. University is not a place where you just learn concepts; it’s a place where you learn to socialize, interact with fellow classmates, appreciate various cultures, learn leadership skills and also have fun. Even if we talk in strictly academic terms, internet can’t be a replacement for a professor physically delivering a lecture and interacting with students in a physical classroom.

It has been just one year since MOOCs have been around in their current form. So it will be too early to make any predictions. If MOOCs have to reach to the masses, India will have to create indigenous content in English as well as regional languages. India still faces the basic problem of infrastructure i.e. access to computers and broadband connectivity, so it will be interesting to see how the story unfolds here.

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About Scatteredpillar

Journalism graduate, compulsive reader, bibliophile, introvert.

Posted on April 18, 2013, in Education and Technology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Reblogged this on Getting Loquacious and commented:
    What are Massive Open Online Courses and what impact will they have on higher education? This post tries to answer.

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