MOOCs – Education’s New Wave?

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are being touted as the next big thing in education.

What’s a MOOC, you ask?  A MOOC is a free online course offered to an unlimited number of students. The course is structured around pre-recorded lectures and pre-set assignments (quizzes, exams, projects, etc.) which can be taken at any time so that the students can live anywhere in the world, taking part in the class whenever they choose.  Interactivity is encouraged and even required via discussion topics posted by the teacher, and students are often required to comment upon the work of other students.

It is probably – if not definitely – too soon to know what impact MOOCs can have on education around the world, but a few general observations can be made.

On the positive side:

  • A wide array of courses can now be accessed by individuals who could not hope to have access to them before, particularly in the developing world. All that is required is a computer and internet access.

On the negative side:

  • An online course can’t compete with the experience of sitting with an actual teacher and other students for direct interaction.
  • It is easy to be diverted from an online course by computer distractions like emails or Facebook or by real life concerns such as laundry, food preparation, or children.  In the end, a student might just give up entirely.

UN Blogger KM on a dollar a day set forth a interesting analysis of MOOCs as they relate to the field of international development.  Due to the global nature of development work, he sees great potential utility of MOOCs in uniting and engaging development workers, partner employees, and government staff around the world. He also raises good questions regarding the sustainability of such programs. How can MOOCs remain free in the long-term? And if they begin to be corporate sponsored, how can the neutrality of content be assured?

How do you think MOOCs will impact developing areas? Will they bring a better education to a wider audience? Will they be an effective means of training development workers and investors around the globe? Or are MOOCs simply the latest fad?

I am sure we will return to this discussion in the future.

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