MOOCs…Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime… Reply

“All of the top achievers I know are lifelong learners…Looking for new skills, insights, and ideas. If they’re not learning, they’re not growing… not moving toward excellence.” Denis Waitley (is an American motivational speaker and writer, consultant and best-selling author of “The Psychology of Winning”)

“Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, it is possible to learn something that can enrich our lives and the lives of others… Non one’s education is ever complete.”Sir John Templeton (November 29, 1912 – July 8, 2008) was an American-born British stock investor, businessman and philanthropist

“Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress implacably requires change. Education is essential to change, for education creates both new wants and the ability to satisfy them.” Henry Steele Commager, (October 25, 1902 – March 2, 1998) was an American historian who was a great educator, essayist & specializing in the American Constitution

Would you agree to take the following course?

Now let’s consider the following question: What do Harvard University, University of California at Berkeley, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) all have  in common with EdX and Coursera, ScoopIt and Udacity? These “brick and mortar” American institutions of higher learning are all participating in a huge online experiment to educate millions of people via the internet and MOOCs. Click here to read an article published in the New York Times last July: Universities Reshaping Education on the Web

While writing my post yesterday about the attacks on the American Embassy in Benghazi, I was asking myself certain fundamental questions regarding globalization and how the world has become so intertwined and yet so divided over the past centuries. How do we explain the Bill of Rights to foreign students and how it has influenced what the United States has become and what kind of democracy this country represents? With such a diverse and multiethnic and multi-religious society, where are we headed? Then I thought to myself how nice it would be to take another history course to understand better the historical ramifications and influences which have evolved over the past 100 years. I would like to deepen my knowledge of past events to fully explain how we got to where we are now.  I thought how nice it would be to take a college history course to better comprehend today’s events. But living in a small village in the Southwest of France more than one hundred miles from a University it’s impossible. And then again is it? Of course…take an online course like I have advised so many students to do! Ah hah! A MOOC…a Massive Open Online Course! I have written about this subject before while researching the story behind the Kahn Academy and the trend of putting “open courseware” on the web, but since then these types of courses have really taken off!

I went straight to the Internet…my gateway to the world…and after a few minutes of research found an online course entitled “A History of the World since 1300” with a Princeton University professor, open to anyone who wants to devote 4 to 7 hours a week to learning the material over 12 weeks.I thought to myself…that ought to explain a lot of things. Voila! While searching the course catalogue, I discovered other courses that looked interesting to me such as  Greek and Roman mythology, a beginners course in ‘Irrational Thinking’,

Computer Human Interaction 

or a course in programming essentials from the University of Toronto…all without leaving home! I realized immediately that MOOCs are beginning to create a future where millions of people of all ages can have access to some of the most elite and best universities in the world thanks to technology..including myself. Amazing!

Not only does this have an effect on adults like me who crave for knowledge, but also on “undergraduates” who can’t afford to go to a “big-name school” such as Princeton and Harvard or who haven’t the grade point average  (educational qualifications) to attend them. And as tuition for colleges and universities are getting more and more expensive, thousands of students are taking the cheaper route by taking free online courses, maybe taking a few courses at their local community colleges and working part time to pay their bills.

Moody’s Investors Service did a study on these MOOCs and declared them a “pivotal development” that has the potential of revolutionizing higher education. MIT has been offering these courses for years but now other universities are jumping on the band wagon realizing the enormous potential of these types of classes:

  • Harvard University
  • Princeton
  • University of California at Berkeley and at San Francisco
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Stanford University
  • CalTech (California Institute of Technology)
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Massachusetts Institute of Massachusetts
  • John Hopkins University
  • Duke University
  • Rice University
  • Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne
  • University of Washington and Illinois
  • and the list goes on….

By joining the online higher education community, Moody’s predicted that these universities, some of which are hurting financially, will be able to diversify their sources of revenue by charging for advertising and licensing. Some private and public companies may even subsidize some of these courses if they think their employees could benefit. Obviously popular “brand name” universities will benefit the most having already gained a reputation in their on-campus courses. And taking an online course from a University such as Harvard will help remove the “stigma” of not being serious enough which has always surrounded distance learning courses. Smaller universities will have to be careful because they might see a decline in student demand. But as competition spurs innovation and development, this will be a big incentive for them to join the club and participate.

How do they work?

Generally anyone can sign up for a course and access the course materials at their convenience. During the online course you can ask questions “live” or post your question on an online discussion board. The instructor will assign homework and discuss it during the class. For the moment there is no correction of homework but that may come as more and more learning software is created in order to bypass human intervention.

Of course the next challenge will be earning certificates, degrees or some other type of document which would acknowledge the fact that a student has taken a course, completed it, and perhaps, why not?, done an excellent job. EdX and Udacity are thinking about adding tests and accrediting some online courses so that students will be more motivated to “attend” them regularly and do the homework! Some students who have already accrued thousands of dollars in student loans are hoping that these courses will help them in the job market. A student drop-out (University of Connecticut) told a USA Today journalist: “There’s no way to argue that my learning experience (with) top professors from across the country is going to be worse than anyone else’s learning experience in any learning environment,” he says. “Then it’s up to the employer. How much weight do these online certificates hold in the eye of the employer?”

Of course…not only are American students interested in these courses, but now foreign students are as well. It’s become more and more difficult to get a student visa to study in the US or in a top European University not to speak of the expense of traveling and living in these countries. A student from Bangalore, India took an MIT course in engineering and declared that it was harder than aything he had taken in his undergraduate engineering program in India. “The fact that it was an MIT course, I thought I wouldn’t be able to do well,” he says. “I will definitely put this on my resume.”

Of course most people and instructors would agree that this is not the best way to learn and to educate yourself. Being in a classroom with other students and interacting with them is probably the most enriching and beneficial way to learn. But if you can’t have the best experience…than studying in this way is better than not studying at all…!

Ignorance is the downfall of many nations and peoples and if you can educate the masses you will empower them and help them improve their lives, the lives of their families and communities, and more than ever, help people understand each other across borders and around the world. What a wonderful place it would be! See you in class!

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