Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC): The Revolutionary New Mode Of Free Education

Posted on August 30, 2013 in Education

By Jay Mehta:

In the education world the year 2012 can, without the slightest pinch of skepticism, be called the year of Revolution, the year of the MOOC. The silly-sounding acronym, short for massive open online courses, encompasses a new pedigree of online classes that are rattling the higher education world in ways that could be a boon for cash-strapped students, predominantly because the courses are free and open to any individual (not just students) anywhere.

Student doing online class, mooc

MOOC first made waves in the fall of 2011 when the then Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun, influenced by the free video tutorials that Salman Khan (Founder, Khan Academy, whom Time named in its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, while Forbes put called its story the “$1 Trillion Opportunity”), put his artificial intelligence course online, and over 150,000 people in more than 190 countries signed up for the free class. In January of 2013, Thrun launched Udacity, a private educational organisation with over a dozen online courses that students can complete at their own pace. A similar start-up, created by two Stanford computer-science professors, called Coursera, was launched in April and now boasts nearly three dozen major university partners, including Columbia, Duke and Princeton. The third major player in this market, edX, was launched in May by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

The advent of this new form of learning might be termed as the fastest evolution in education, ever.

“No technology has ever developed this quickly in academia; not electricity, not the telephone, not the Internet.” argues Sree Sreenivasan.

(Sree Sreenivasan is Columbia University’s first Chief Digital Officer and a member of the faculty of Columbia Journalism School, where he teaches social and digital media)

Thousands of students worldwide are taking a liking towards this new form of education. Let’s put the Indian education system under the scanner for instance. MOOCs open up many additional paths for a career progression. Think of the potential for an engineer who takes a class in machine learning to gain a greater understanding of how to cut down on costs while building one. On the flip side, a product manager who learns to code could communicate better with engineers, gaining the credibility needed to push an organization forward.

With innumerable and inexplicable advantages, come some disadvantages. Completion rates for MOOCs are typically very low, with a steep drop in student participation starting in the first week. Early data from Coursera suggest a completion rate of 7%—9%. Most registered students don’t intend to complete the course, according to Coursera founders Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, but rather to explore the general topic. The completion rate for students who complete the first assignment is about 45 percent.

This is one of the biggest disadvantages of MOOC’s. Since a student is not required to be physically present in college to attend a class, and there is no deadline as to which he must adhere to, students tend to leave things undone: Student Psychology 101.

Type “MOOC” into Google and you get 2.7 million hits. Type in “MOOC business model” and you get about 110,000 hits. The freemium business model [Freemium is a business model by which a product or service (typically a digital offering such as software, media, games or web services) is provided free of charge, but money (premium) is charged for advanced features, functionality, or virtual goods. The word “freemium” combines the two aspects of the business model: “free” and “premium“], drawn from Silicon Valley companies like Google, is a leading candidate. In this model the basic product — the course content — is given away free.

The main focus of educators around the world is how quickly these MOOCs will offer not just a ground breaking mode of learning for the mass and the curious but also give credentials that students/individuals seek because employers around the globe value them. It is then, that we’ll truly have created a new world. A recent survey suggested that indubitably, there will be upheaval as we navigate this new path, but if we get it right, the prize – wider access, improved employability, and deeper learning– involves untold benefits for students and the society.