Learning About MOOCs – The Pros and Cons

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Many parents and students are interested in learning about MOOCs (massive open online courses) and wonder whether they are really a valid option in higher education. In this post, I hope to point out what are the pros and cons. It also has implications for high school teachers as that will be the next stage in the program.

Academic wars

The idea that MOOCs would provide the magic answer in making higher education courses entirely free and open to everybody has attracted a lot of praise and criticism. The academics themselves point out that many courses and assessments just cannot be taught effectively online. They cite humanities and literature as an example. Assessment of these courses would require an essay and administering such a test on a massive scale would be logistically impossible. Not to mention assessment of the essays done by a computer!

As we can see, there has been some resistance among university staff but there are also some professors who like the idea of lecturing to thousands of students worldwide. Prestigious universities might be able to capitalize on the project by selling their courses online but there would be the thorny question of accreditation to be worked out.

The lesser known universities are attracted to the idea of being able to use famous names as part of the courses they would offer. It might even mean that they could cut back on costs by making some of their staff redundant and cutting back on their expenses. That is why many academics fear losing their jobs.

Learning about MOOCs- profit or non-profit?

So far the three big names in providing these types of courses are:

Learning About MOOCs – The Pros and Cons

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  • edX  (Harvard and MIT)
  • Udacity (Stanford University)
  • Coursera (already offers over 500 courses)

They are in competition with each other and there is a great debate whether the courses should be completely free or not.  But there are some companies and private institutions who are willing to pay for these services provided that there is some accreditation in the package.

Are the MOOCs a really valid option?

A whopping 70% of professors who have already taught the MOOCs are not happy with the amount of work that students produced. They have said that they would certainly not deserve to be awarded a credit from their university.

It seems that the drop out rate of students who actually enrolled is very high indeed. Research by the CCRC (Community College Research Center) at Columbia which looked at earlier courses held at the Washington colleges found the drop out rate to be very high and the actual academic achievement to be rather low.  Similar results were noted at the Universities of Virginia and Philadelphia.

There is also the problem that because everything is pre-recorded, there is difficulty in keeping the sessions up to date with the latest research and news.

The advantages of MOOCs

Online education for the masses is obviously the way to go in this high tech age. Here is a list of the benefits:-

  • student population are computer savvy and expect online input
  • flexibility is a key factor
  • some courses are ideal for online delivery – others are not
  • courses so far are delivered in shorter modules and learning is informally checked by quizzes or practice questions.
  • feedback can be immediate
  • students with special needs may prefer a more private environment than the lecture hall.
  • courses are free

How could MOOCs provide a better alternative?

There are many possible developments and some people are convinced that MOOCs can provide a cost effective alternative to face to face courses. Others say that it will be a massive flop.  These are the key issues that have to be addressed:-

  • blending MOOC options and modules into existing face to face courses
  • sorting out the courses where credits might be offered. Most MOOCs only offer a certificate of completion at the moment.
  • facing up to accreditation and monitoring the courses offered
  • assessment procedures to be worked out
  • stop cheating in tests and assessments –students may have to pay to sit an exam in a secure environment!
  • finding a valid alternative to face to face tutorials.

It will be interesting to see whether the high dropout rate is going to continue and whether the MOOCs are really going to take off.

Learning About MOOCs – The Pros and ConsRobert Locke MBE is a health enthusiast specializing in children’s health and has written extensively on ADHD, parenting, mental health, anxiety and depression. You can discover more about learning about MOOCs and other educational issues by visiting the Problem Kids Blog.

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Learning About MOOCs – The Pros and Cons

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