A recent New York Times article by Laura Pappano was titled ‘The Year of the MOOC’. What is a MOOC, and why has it become such a buzzword in the higher education sector of late?MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course structured to be taught online to several thousands of students all over the world.
The traditional learning method in higher education is to enroll in a university and pursue a course of study after paying a fee. While courses are highly structured, course timings are not very flexible (think 8 am–4 pm college). This means that getting specialised education in a certain field requires significant time and financial commitments, which not everyone can afford.
A MOOC is usually in collaboration with a university, through which the university allows people who are not enrolled as students to access their intellectual property, at minimal or (usually) no cost. Video lectures are posted online and can be accessed whenever students find the time.
Some MOOCs also offer periodic homework assignments and exams, which require students to sign an honour code (i.e. promise not to cheat on the tests and sometimes have a proctor watch over them). Upon successful completion of this online course, students receive certification jointly from the MOOC providers and the university.
However, a majority of the MOOCs exist purely to educate students, and students don’t receive any formal accreditation. These MOOCs do not have mandatory homework assignments or exams, but are meant only to help interested students learn. This is a luxury for people who have time and monetary constraints, and yet want to learn.
Working persons who wish to update and/or learn new skills without quitting their jobs will find MOOCs particularly useful. Since a large portion of the popular MOOCs are available free of charge, college students can also use these to build on the skills they acquire in a formal classroom.
Massive Open Online Courses are being seen as an integral element of a new wave in higher education. Other popular models include peer-to-peer exchange and DIY (Do-It-Yourself).
Some popular MOOC providers include Coursera (founded by two Stanford professors, featuring content from several top universities), Khan Academy (run by an MIT-Harvard graduate), edX (a collaboration between MIT and Harvard), Udacity (through Stanford), NPTEL (from seven IITs and IISc in India), MIT OpenCourseWare and Open.Michigan (from the University of Michigan).
Some MOOC providers exist as for-profit entities, whereas others are not-for-profit, but most don’t have well defined revenue models (and so most courses are still available for free).
While MOOCs will not fully replace conventional educational institutions, they have the potential to fundamentally transform the field of education. To have access to academic material from world-class universities without paying a single rupee is an opportunity that should not be missed.
As a graduate student in the US, I still use MOOCs to learn content outside of my classes. I would recommend college students and working professionals to become MOOChers – all it takes is some focus and time.
(Tejas is studying Energy Systems Engineering and Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA.)
Keywords: Laura Pappano, Khan Academy (run by an MIT-Harvard graduate), edX (a collaboration between MIT and Harvard), Udacity (through Stanford), NPTEL (from seven IITs and IISc in India), MIT OpenCourseWare and Open.Michigan (from the University of Michigan), Massive Open Online Course, online education