How MOOCs Give Students a Taste of Online Learning


A massive open online course, or MOOC, is a relatively new phenomenon. They began gaining widespread popularity in 2011, as large universities saw the potential in granting anyone with Internet access the ability to register and attend as many free classes as they could fit into their schedules. Soon, some of the country’s leading schools, including Harvard, MIT, Duke, and UCLA, began offering their own version of these online classes.

Early Reaction

From the beginning, the primary purpose of these courses was to offer the world’s best education to anyone willing to learn. However, stumbling blocks along the way led to an inevitable backlash, with critics decrying MOOCs as somewhat of a failure, due to the limited number of students completing their open courses.

A Diverse Population

A recent Harvard/MIT study sheds a more positive light on MOOCs and the students taking advantage of them. The two institutions analyzed the 68 courses in their joint venture, edX, to find out exactly who was taking and completing the courses. Researchers were surprised to learn that up to 39 percent of enrolled students were teachers who already had advanced degrees, suggesting that many participants were less interested in receiving a certificate for their work, and more interested in learning to improve their own knowledge and classroom performance.

There is some worry that the intended target audience -- those without a post-secondary education -- is not benefiting enough from the programs. Researchers suggest that courses need to be redesigned with that audience in mind if the reason for offering a MOOC in the first place is to be maintained.

Bridging A Gap

The truth about MOOCs is that they are still evolving, and while they may not have yet lived up to their initial hype as the way to bring college education to the masses, they have provided opportunities for self-motivated learners to supplement their education. At the same time, these courses are giving students who have been taught in traditional classroom settings a taste of what they can learn and accomplish at an online university. Instead of attending study sessions, they’re absorbing information through videos and discussion forums. By experiencing a new, flexible learning style, they are bridging the gap between the past and future of higher education.

Written by Ashford University staff

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