MOOCs: is the future of education massive, open and online?

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Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were hailed by some as the "next big thing", but are they really? In this article, we will examine the ways in which MOOCs are indeed changing the face of education as well as the challenges facing the world of online education as we ask ourselves: is the future of education massive, open and online?

MOOCS: is the future of education massive, open and online?

The idea behind a MOOC is to use the internet to bring education to as many people as possible, with open access being a cornerstone of the philosophy. This is accomplished using recorded lectures, assigned readings and problem sets that must be completed, as well as user forums that allow students to interact with each other to aid their learning.

Some MOOCs are not made available on an open licence, opting to employ a closed licence that prevents copying and modification of the course material. Either way the core idea remains the same: Education on the Internet.

Massive Open Online Courses are, essentially, distance learning for the 21st century, uniting the concept of learning from home and that technological wonder of the modern age: the internet.

The internet has been great for many things: making it easy to share and find information, connecting us with people from all around the world. But can this be harnessed to bring education to the masses? Let's look at a few of the positives behind MOOCs.

Massive

It's in the name - MOOCs allow institutes of learning to make course material and (this is important) the opportunity to learn to a wide range of people. In 2013, major MOOC providers Coursera and edX reached 5 million and 1.3 million learners respectively, and that was several years ago!

Open

By far one of the biggest problems with tertiary education around the world is its relative inaccessibility to the majority of people. The biggest reason for this is, by far, the sheer cost of studying towards a degree; look at the #FeesMustFall protests that rocked South Africa in recent years. MOOCs offer a workaround for this, offering the study material and access to the course up for free. However, in order to receive university credit for the courses, one needs to pay a fee.

The biggest plus here is the free access to course material and study material; the cost of university textbooks is astronomical, and MOOCs give us a solution to this.

Online

Another factor in the inaccessibility of education is that fact that not everyone can physically attend classes. Many people who want to study further are already working and so are unable to find the time to attend. Distance learning offers these potential students a way to achieve their dreams, and MOOCs are just the next wave in this.

Of course, MOOCs are not a magic bullet that will solve all the problems surrounding education. In order to receive a certificate that may be used as university credit, students need to pay a fee, and not every institute will accept this as credit towards a degree.

Additionally, MOOCs have a very low completion rate: data suggests that the general rate is somewhere between 3 and 9%. Some of the reasons for this include poor course design, relying too heavily on lecture videos, and the fact that some MOOCs require the purchase of expensive textbooks.

In short, MOOCs are great and have the potential to make education more readily accessible to people around the world but are not without their problems. What we need now is to find a way to integrate technology with the education system here in South Africa and bring MOOCs to the masses.

Article by: Conor Engelbrecht

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