The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is a recent trend for delivering online learning to virtually anyone, anywhere. As the name implies, a MOOC is open to hundreds or thousands of registered students who have Internet access. MOOCs are made possible by social networking, expert teachers, and free online resources. Usually there is no fee and no credit given for a MOOC. However, there are various permutations where an expert instructor, affiliated with a particular university, can teach her course as a MOOC and have her on-campus students take the course for credit concurrently with hundreds of online students taking the course free, for no credit. Where the ivory tower schools limit student access, a MOOC opens the doors to non-campus students, resulting in a dynamic learning environment.
The major providers of MOOCs are Udacity, Coursera, and edX. Most MOOCs are sponsored by a university and are taught by recognized expert teachers. These open classes let prospective students sample what a university has to offer. MOOCs can raise the profile of an institution and the teacher just by the massive online exposure and they can be used as promotional vehicles to boost on-campus enrollment.
The MOOC is still evolving. It presents some unique challenges for students and institutions of higher learning. For lifelong learners, the MOOC provides opportunities to be part of a learning community. However, like online learning there are advantages and disadvantages to MOOCs:
- Free or low cost
- No travel time or cost
- Work at your own speed
- Social networking community
- MOOCs may be very beneficial for classes like esoteric languages—your school can’t afford to hire a professor to teach Hindi, but through a MOOC, you have access to a Hindi expert
- No face-to-face interaction with teachers & classmates
- Too massive for adequate social interaction, establishing community may be problematic
- A textual learning environment, expressing thoughts, feelings, or opinions may be difficult
- Classes exits in cyberspace
Students have to weigh the ever-increasing costs of a college education and the debt they must take on with the prospects of viable, post-graduation job opportunities. Is the price of a college education worth it? The arrival of free MOOCs now can be factored into the decision-making process. MOOCs will not replace traditional college classroom learning, they will give students more options and more ways to learn online.
“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” —Yogi Berra