How can a farmer in a remote region in Asia get a professional degree in the agricultural sciences without venturing out of his village? Today, he could use a smartphone app to attend lectures, access the world’s best courseware and earn the first Ph.D. in his entire community, all for free.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a recent trend in distance education that include free, structured online courses accessible to every individual and aimed at unlimited participation. The setup is a digital classroom with no actual infrastructure, where one is free to study when one likes, and how one likes. The courses could also be smartphone-enabled, allowing learners to study on the move. In this way, MOOCs make knowledge accessible to those who might be excluded from learning because of limitations of time, geographic locations, formal prerequisites, and financial hardship. In a nutshell—learning is now more available, affordable, and responsive for all.
Thousands of courses from some of the world’s best institutions are available free online, covering anything from astrophysics to animation. Universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Stanford offer their own courses powered by videos, documents, podcasts, advanced textbooks, and detailed research papers, thereby bringing students a true multimedia experience. Such shared applications and documents make learning a more collaborative process. Free online resources in combination with cloud technology can also be used in dispensing, collecting and grading work online, such that students have instant access to their own progress.
MOOCs use strategies similar to social networking to connect masses, but with the added benefits of subject matter experts to facilitate classrooms. A classic example that showcases MOOCs’ success is a course on Artificial Intelligence by Stanford faculty, for which a whopping 160,000 participants enrolled. MIT’s own open courseware averages 1 million visits each month from all over the world.
MOOCs increasing accessibility makes the cumbersome process of education look like a walk in the park. Take the case of a Rwandan school topper, who found a $1500 university course beyond her reach. Instead of fretting, she joined Kepler’s full MOOC business and finance curriculum.1 In this way, MOOCs aid student engagement and lifelong learning opportunities.
In addition, MOOCs are forcing institutions to learn how to collaborate, share resources, and shake off a historical institutional-centric approach to education. They also drive price competition, giving traditional higher education institutions incentive to reduce cost. But this transformation demands more effective learning materials that can go hand in hand with the learning objectives of MOOCs. For instance, technologists are considering the use of adaptive-learning software, which responds to the needs of individual students, to personalize MOOCs’ learning experiences.
Are MOOCs the future of education? How do you think MOOCs will assist education in abolishing illiteracy around the world? Share your views with us in the comments box below.