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MOOC Brings Higher Education to the Masses

posted by Robin Green on September 23rd, 2013

mooc1Remember when they said that in the future you’d have a flying car, food in the form of a pill (who wants that) and teleportation, but instead all we got was weird Miley Cyrus dance routines with teddy bears? Well there’s one thing we were promised in the future that is now here: college by computer. And it’s called a “MOOC.”

What a MOOC is

MOOC stands for MASSIVE OPEN ONLINE COURSES. They are classes that are taught on site at an actual university (like Berkely or MIT) but are broadcast on the web to thousands and potentially millions of students around the world either via streaming or by use of a video site such as YouTube. While most MOOCs are simply individual classes that are provided to users, some MOOCs (known sometimes as XMOOCS) enhance the experience by offering on-line quizzes, message boards and chat functions that create an on-line community, sometimes led by a teacher, that replicates the traditional college experience.

Which institutions offer them

MOOCs are being offered by some of the greatest universities in the world. How great? We’re talking Stanford, Harvard, MIT, The University of London and even Caltech, which was recently ranked as the best college in the world by Times Higher Education.

In fact more and more top universities are offering MOOCs every day. A quick search of the major colleges in the US shows that most now offer some sort of video classes on-line. In addition to the major universities, colleges of all stripes and sizes are also offering MOOCs. In fact, some MOOCs are being created not only with the help of these schools but through partnerships between universities, corporations and industry groups. For instance, Google is offering MOOCs that train computer engineers how to write programs that work with its search engines, and American Movie Classics is teaming with the University of Irvine (California), not to teach a class, but to allow its Walking Dead television series to be used as a backdrop to teach kids about physics, math and health.

Who enrolls in MOOCs?

For most MOOCS no enrollment is needed; just a computer, a basic high-speed connection and the link to the class.

MOOCs are helpful for any kind of student. For instance, while MOOCs don’t seem to be a good choice for someone seeking vocational training (such as nursing, AC repair, food handling etc.) a MOOC can greatly add to that student’s knowledge and career prospects. A junior college nursing major can take business MOOCs to help her one day become an administrator or own her own practice and she can take those classes from none other than Harvard Business School! In her pajamas!

For those who want to use the MOOCs to fit into a traditional college degree plan, companies like Coursera are offering a “freemium” model where the courses are free, but for a fee the student can enroll with them and be tested on that classes’ subject matter and be given either a certificate or credit for the class.

In fact, recently, the college credit recommendation service ACE (The American Counsel on Education) deemed five MOOC courses as worthy of college credit. This new level of certification will open the door to the day when MOOC courses are an important part of a college degree program. MOOCs are also becoming popular with high school or undergrad students looking to choose a university. For instance, schools like The University of Cincinnati offer MOOC programs that can be taken for credit, but only if the student continues on and enrolls at the school full time. It’s the educational version of a free sample. MOOCs are a great choice for anyone wanting to take a college class for any reason.

Where can you find MOOCs?

MOOCs are as easy to find as they are free in most cases. The best way to find any MOOC, believe it or not, is just to use a simple web search via a site like Google or Bing. Search the university you’d like to “study” at (in a MOOC sense), the subject matter you want to learn and the word “MOOC” and the odds are you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for. You can even direct your search to individual professors and obscure subjects. If there is a Nobel Prize winning professor whose work you admire, the odds are that they are teaching a MOOC.

However, if you want help in your MOOC search, companies like Coursea, Udacity and edX offer plenty of free courses, but categorize the classes so they are easy to find in one place. These companies add extras like the previously mentioned certification and exclusive classes offered only by them. Furthermore, companies like Ed2Go offer (for a class fee) less traditional skill based classes such as instruction in different popular computer programs like PhotoShop and Excel and topics such as graphic design and photography.

MOOCs contribute to education, and to society in general

For the most part, MOOCs are spawned by universities’ missions of providing knowledge to the world and reaching out to populations that because of income or other responsibilities cannot attend their institutions. For the late life learner, the nontraditional student or the student who because of medical reasons or rural location cannot physically attend a college the MOOC literally opens a whole new world of learning.

If you are in a impoverished town or village halfway across the world, a hospital bed in Baltimore or sitting on a beach in Hawaii, you can “attend” the world’s greatest colleges from right where you sit.

While some educators worry that the MOOC classes will draw money away from their institutions since MOOCs allow students to get their product for free, the ability to make education available to all is too great a gift to pass up. And it’s not going away.

Imagine taking a history of dance class from Yale, a quantum physics class from MIT and a history class from Cambridge University. You’ll be the “most interesting student in the world.”

(Sources: Wikipedia, InsideHigherEd,

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