Democratizing Education: The Great Wave of MOOCs

Over the last few decades, major revolutions have been made in nearly every field – healthcare, transport, communications, genomics, to name just a few – but not so much in education. That is, until MOOCs came along, revolutionizing the way education can be accessed. For those new to the term, MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, are college-level classes taught entirely over the Internet. MOOCs are usually free, draw hundreds or even thousands of students, and are run with minimal direct contact with teachers, with an emphasis instead on brief, engaging video presentations. Watch this short video for a brief explanation about MOOCs:

Considering that many of the most popular MOOC platforms – Coursera, EdX and Udemy, for example – are run by professors from Ivy Leagues and other top-notch universities, they provide not only free knowledge, but amongst the best, most quality education. And they’re disrupting education in more ways than one, as Anant Agarwal, the founder of EdX, writes:

One way Moocs have changed education is by increasing access. Moocs make education borderless, gender-blind, race-blind, class-blind and bank account-blind. Up to now, quality education – and in some cases, any higher education at all – has been the privilege of the few. Moocs have changed that. Anyone with an internet connection can have access. We hear from thousands of students, many in under-served, developing countries, about how grateful they are for this education.

Moocs are also improving the quality of education. Online learning promotes active learning, where the learner watches videos and engages in interactive exercises. At edX, our team has focused on capturing this element of online learning through an innovative user interface. Moocs and online learning also enable instant feedback through automatically graded exercises, self-paced learning through the ability to pause or rewind videos, peer learning through online discussion forums, and the application of gaming mechanisms to virtual laboratories.

While the proponents of MOOCs cite the democratization of education as one of its biggest benefits, there are also a number of people concerned about the “Death of the University” and the loss of interactive, classroom-based pedagogy. Many others, however, feel that while MOOCs can certainly make self-education simpler and more accessible, that classroom-based is irreplaceable and will therefore continue to exist, albeit in a different manifestation. In India, for example, many professors see this as an opportunity for collaboration and for enhancing their existing classes with knowledge available from MOOCs.

“We expect to see more partnerships between MOOC providers and Indian universities wherein MOOC courses are integrated with existing Indian courses in a “flipped classroom” framework, for both on-campus as well as distance learning programmes,” said Raj Chakrabarti, professor of systems engineering in Carnegie Mellon University.

Chakrabarti says that Indian students can leverage on MOOC to stay competitive. “Given the limited capacity of seats at top US and Indian universities, these features enhance the competitive edge of Indian students in the global job market and improves their chances of admission to top US and European colleges and graduate schools,” he added.

Of course, the lack of accreditation of MOOC courses may be a problem, especially in a country like India where degrees and diplomas count for more than the actual skill or knowledge that a potential employee brings to the table. But perhaps this is something that we’re overcoming as a society, slowly but surely:

“But as our markets mature, people will look to adopt MOOCs as a credible source of learning. Separately, most MOOC providers are figuring out partnerships with councils and accrediting bodies to award university credits and certifications to lend further legitimacy to MOOCs,” said Rainmaker’s Alex.

One thing does remain certain, however, which is that MOOCs are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean the death of the university is around the corner. While MOOCs may indeed disrupt education in the long-term, those long-term changes are still unclear. How do you think MOOCs are transforming education? Do you think the traditional university is at the end of its days? Do let us know what you think.

This entry was posted in Design!publiC and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *