Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)

Open Education “…is the simple and powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that technology in general and the Worldwide Web in particular provide an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to share, use, and reuse knowledge.”
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Open Education Resources (OER) are online educational materials that are offered freely, for the purpose of learning, teaching, and research by students and educators. These open resources can be one way or two ways communication. I.e. the content can be provided by an accredited institute (such as an online university) for the students , or it can be edited by the community to serve the public (Wikipedia). The following diagram shows the difference of these approaches mainly by two distinctive attributes: the scale of the operation, and the provider:

When the scale of the operation is large, and the provider is an educational institute, we call this Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). The following explains each word of it:

Massive: A lot of students, with usually no limited capacity, for structured courses some have over 100,000 enrolled in a single course. This enables to mass customization since these courses require managing the delivery and evaluation methods  for thousands of students. Also, this is a great opportunity for massive data collection and statistical analysis of participant’s behavior, which leads to improving e-learning in general.

Open: the courses are free! However, if a student want a certification of completion, some programs require fees.

Online: No attendance necessary, it all online! With a combination of videos, slides, written materials, and interactive online materials.

Course: it is more than a class, since there is an engagement with the material, and networking with others in different parts of the world.

Online education has been around since 1994, since then it has grown slowly but steadily. By 2010 almost one third of US students were taking at least one course online. By 2012, MOOC’s became they new hype in education, when universities such as Stanford, Harvard, and MIT opened up their best courses for online public access.

As seen on the above timeline, there are two types of MOOC’s; first is the older version is the ‘connectivist’ cMOOC. The second is xMOOC.

cMOOC’s are identified by Gorge Siemens as “discursive communities creating knowledge together”. His Connectivist principles informs the pedagogy behind it:

  •  Learning and knowledge rest in diversity of opinions.
  •  Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

It is mainly focused on crowd source interactions and group collaboration. Examples are: Blogs, twitter, facebook, iTunes, RSS feed, open culture, and other social media networks. Which enables an Asynchronous courses that students can start at any time and take at their own pace.

As for xMOOC’s; it is based on a model around a more traditional one way ‘teacher to student’ knowledge transfer and are offered by the large scale organizations and institutions.

Interaction is limited between students and the professors, there are no one on one discussions that class rooms provide. However, since MOOC’s give the chance for students to learn from some of the great professors in best universities; not having this interaction is a price worth paying. Since these courses are intended for thousands of students, assignments are usually automatically graded (with mostly multiple choice, true or false, a direct word answers) that mainly capture comprehension of the material rather than challenging the students. Also, discussions are usually set in the form of forums with thousands of students. These type of courses are usually Synchronous; which adhere to a specific schedule that established start and end dates and weekly delivery of new lectures and assignments.

Famous examples of these MOOC’s are: Udacity, edXCoursera, Academic Earth, Khan Academy, and Udemy.

How beneficial are these courses? In a CNN interview with Udacity’s manager Sebastien Thrun’s, a former professor at Stanford University, he explained that some 410 online students outperformed the top Stanford students, also students translated the classes in English into 44 languages to other students.

However, there are plenty of challenges facing MOOCs.

First is the Completion Rate; most of today’s MOOC’s have less than 10% average of registered students actually completing the course. This might attribute to the following reasons:

  1. A lot of participants register for the sake of research purposes without intentions of completing them
  2.  Some students might lift specific skills out of courses without following through to completion
  3. MOOC’s provide unusual “free” opportunity, whereas students in traditional college courses likely wouldn’t enroll in a course they knew they might fail to complete if they were paying full tuition

Second problem is the delivery of valuable token of completion (Accreditation) such as credentials or badges. Which is also related to the authentication problem where student’s identity must be known. However, MOOC’s are now seeing this as an opportunity for a revenue source.

The third problem is sustainability, and developing a Revenue Model. The following is some of the methods that famous institutes can pursue, please note that edX is -in contrary to the other two providers- is a non for profit institute:

Currently; Udacity is trying out different business models, such as matching students with employers, licensing content to schools and charging for proctored exams. For instance, About 350 companies have signed up to access Udacity’s job portal in recent months, though it has placed just about 20 students so far. The revenue for Udacity comes from a 20% share of the students first year’s salary.

The following are some data about the number of courses provided, number of registered students, and number of course completion for the following institutes:

In conclusion, MOOC’s is a great tool that can be used to enrich accessibility, conveniency, and diversity of education if used properly. Also, here is a great report created by PBS about How Free Online Courses Are Changing the Traditional Liberal Arts Education




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