Imagine hundreds of thousands of students simultaneously taking the same Math course from the top university professor at Yale. That is a MOOC.
MOOC is an acronym for Massively Open Online Course. MOOCs allow for the best university instructors from the most prestigious universities to reach a much broader student audience. Students anywhere in the world can take a course via a MOOC. In many cases, over 100,000 students can take the same course at the same time.
A recent New York Times Op Ed piece by Thomas Friedman quoted Anant Agarwal, President of EdX, a non-profit MOOC that “since May, some 155,000 students from around the world have taken edX’s first course: a M.I.T. intro class on circuits”. According to Agarwal “That is greater than the total number of M.I.T. alumni in its 150-year history”.
So what is a MOOC anyway? Think of MOOCs as sort of a cross between online schools such as Phoenix University and free education providers such as Khan Academy. Like Phoenix or Khan, MOOCs use the Internet to deliver lectures and course material. However, the lecture can be paused so a student can take time to more fully absorb the material, essentially telling the lecturer to “take a break”. The student can also pause an online test. MOOCs intertwine some of the positive aspects of social media, such as online forums, discussion boards, study groups, and, in many cities, in-person Meet-Ups. These social gatherings are monitored by teaching assistants. As with regular classes, there is homework, quizzes, and a final exam. MOOC courses are generally offered for free and without course credit.
MOOCs are not for everyone. They typically have large dropout rates. Students who are highly self-motivated and persistent will be the most successful. Those students that do persist will reap an added reward. Employers looking for high-tech job candidates have begun formal arrangements with MOOC providers to surf student profiles for the “best and brightest”.
The largest and best know MOOC is Coursera, a consortium of 33 universities including Stanford, Duke, Princeton, Penn, Brown, University of Virginia, and Cal Tech. Founded only a year ago, it already has over 2 million participants.
Coursera is currently offering over 200 MOOC courses ranging from Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering to Introduction to Organic Chemistry to Women in the Civil Rights Movement.
No doubt you have seen articles on the spiraling costs of higher education including, most recently, a proposed 12% increase for CT state schools. The increase in college costs combined with overall wage stagnation may, in fact, create an educational tipping point that will further accelerate the growth of MOOCs.