The popularity of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has skyrocketed in recent years as course offerings and quality have improved. MOOCs are open source courses provided by esteemed universities. Students from all over the world enroll in these interactive online classes, which are most often free and do not usually offer credits or degrees. While it’s easy to see the benefits of this access to higher education, there are downsides to MOOCs.
These courses are massive because a great many students take advantage of the open enrollment. The open enrollment means that anyone can join from anywhere. The courses are online as well. Thousands upon thousands of students from all over the world join these courses, and many of the courses allow students as young as 13 to participate. Each course involves a single subject and is self-contained. One MOOC will not contain prerequisite courses, so students who intend to take a MOOC will have to prepare themselves for the course material beforehand. That could mean taking the prerequisite classes or simply studying enough on their own to gain the requisite knowledge for the material in an advanced MOOC.
The biggest advantage of a MOOC is the cost. Although some MOOCs charge students to gain certificates of completion upon passing the course, the vast majority of these programs are delivered free-of-charge. Once the students sign up, they’re in the course and ready to go. Another advantage is that taking these classes at a certain university will usually lead to credit in the subjects studied at that particular university as long as the student enrolls at that university for traditional study. Taking a MOOC is a good way to get some core curriculum out of the way. This is particularly true if one of the top professors at the university were to be teaching the MOOC.
Another great benefit to a MOOC is that there are numerous peer-led study groups, assessment workshops, and tests of a student’s knowledge. Because many of these classes are structured so that students may proceed at their own pace, it gives students many opportunities for improvement and understanding that they would not receive in a traditional course with traditional timelines and due dates. MOOCs are not a joke. Harvard, Stanford, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology all offer MOOCs, and these are three of the top universities not only in the United States but also in the world.
Over 100,000 students are often enrolled in a typical open-access online course. Because there is no way for a teacher and his or her assistants to provide individual support to each student, discussion forums are employed for answering the questions of students who seek help with class material. Without diligent management and proper organization, these forums have a tendency to become chaotic. While some students thrive in online support communities, many students find that they don’t receive the information they need to succeed in the course.
With the equivalent of a small or even a midsize city all taking one course, it might seem easy to become lost the in the shuffle. There is no “taking attendance” at the beginning of each class. Professors and their assistants present the material either through live lectures into which students sign or through prerecorded lectures. In either case, the teachers will use visual and audio aids, slide presentations, multimedia lessons, and other instructional techniques to deliver the information. Often, they will record live instructions for later use by students who, for one reason or another, aren’t able to attend.
Students who must rely on professors as mentors or on other forms of leadership to guide them on their academic journey won’t fare well in a MOOC. Much of the instruction, as stated, comes from students’ peers. Students must be self-starters and skilled at both documentation and organization. Otherwise, it truly is easy to become lost in the shuffle.
Also, even though universities design the MOOCs they offer, students don’t usually take the MOOCs through the university’s portals. Instead, the universities rely on third parties to give the courses. These include companies like Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn. The extra layer of interaction can become unwieldy for students who aren’t “dialed in.” Still, these companies are highly skilled at presenting these course. So, students who have the requisite qualities will succeed. It is therefore incumbent upon all students who sign up to take a MOOC to do all the necessary prep work before beginning the class.
Without a specific class time, students enrolled in MOOCs must be motivated to watch lectures and review class materials in a timely manner. Most MOOCs are set up to have assignments and deadlines, but it’s easy for students to fall behind if they do not set aside enough time for their online classes.
Additionally, students who are motivated by maintaining their GPA or earning credits may find the grading systems and degree earning potential of MOOCs lacking. Some MOOC organizations, such as Coursera, are moving toward trackable grading and certificate programs, but these programs are not necessarily recognized or honored by other institutions.
Remaining motivated in a world of social-media bombardment is a tall order even if a student is studying traditionally and not in an MOOC. Even in regular online classes, students sometimes have trouble staying focused. There are some steps students can take to stay on point. The first thing to do is to shut off the cell phone. Even if it’s on silent, it’s still a powerful draw. On the computer, log off of all social media accounts. Then, disable all notifications that show up even if someone is logged off.
Create a separate email account that is only for communication with peers and other people involved in the MOOC. Log out of all other email accounts for the same reason as logging out of social media. After signing into the MOOC, maximize that window and keep the email window minimized. Don’t listen to music, either, because it draws attention away from the class material. In fact, it would be wise to invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones.
Some students who enroll in these classes do so for work. Either they seek extra qualifications for boosts in pay or rank, or they take the classes to fulfill workplace obligations. In these cases, it would be a good idea for students to speak with their bosses about being allowed to do the classes while at work. Some will allow it, and some will not. Still, if management sees workers taking the initiative, they might not only allow students to do the courses while at work, but they might also subsidize the students’ classes if there are costs involved.
Even if students remove themselves from the tendrils of their social media accounts, it’s still a good idea to decorate their work spaces with inspirational photos. Students can also attach goals to flat surfaces around their workplaces. As they complete the goals, they can toss the reminders. If students have a part of the MOOC that just has a listening component, they can don their headphones and hit the exercise trail. Working out is a great way to reduce stress. When someone is less stressed, then that person can concentrate more.
When taking an MOOC, it may seem like an exercise in controlled chaos. Students can keep track of what they’ve already done by keeping a log or diary of completed assignments and other accomplishments related to the class. This goes very well with the idea of writing down goals. If a student is crafty, then that person can also take the goal notes and make collages or scrapbooks out of them rather than tossing them. This is a good way for that person to put together a pleasurable hobby with the MOOC. Doing pleasurable things involved with the MOOC will build someone’s confidence and ability to focus.
One of the last things to do is for students to find someone to hold them accountable for completing the coursework and taking the requisite tests. Call this person the “pain in the buddy!” Better still, students can perform the same function for each other. In addition to holding each other accountable, they can encourage and help each other strive for excellence at the same time.
Because of the nature of online classes, instructors do not have the time or resources to engage students in real-life applications of the skills they learn from MOOCs. Most online classes rely on short, peer-reviewed assignments or quizzes to reinforce learning objectives. But some skills are best developed outside the learning environment through internships and practicum. MOOC students must design their own internships, volunteer opportunities, and real-life assignments to gain the real-world experience they’d gain from an in-person course of study at a college or university.
In the so-called “real world,” MOOCs have become a staple of learning because of their affordability, easy access, and overall improved quality. In the time of social distancing, they have become invaluable because they allow people to study at home and also to be able to afford to take classes even without an income. As the world transitions from a time during the pandemic to the time after the pandemic, many jobs will have disappeared, never to return. MOOCs then become part of the job retraining process.
In the same vein, MOOCs are useful for people wishing to change careers during their lives irrespective of the effects of the pandemic. High-school students who are “taking a year off” can also avail themselves of MOOCs to build their academic resumes prior to applying for “real college.” And, for those who want to learn just for learning’s sake, these courses are a perfect way to expand on that desire to learn.
The nature of MOOCs make it easier for people to juggle their valuable time. Some last only for a week while others can last a few months. Because almost all MOOCs progress at the students’ speed, those students can complete assignments and assessments as they can over the course of the classes they take. Six years ago, more than 25 million people enrolled in MOOCs. Although the vast majority never completed the courses, the 5% who did numbered 1.25 million. Last year, more than 130 million people took MOOCs worldwide. That’s 6.5 million or more students completing these courses if we keep the 5% rate of completion the same. Compare that to 1.98 million people who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2020 and the roughly 800,000 who earned master’s degrees.
MOOCs are definitely growing, and it’s almost at an exponential rate. At the end of 2020, there were nearly 17,000 separate MOOCs available at nearly 1,000 universities worldwide. It looks like MOOCs are here to stay.
Lack of Structure
While there are high-quality classes available from MOOCs, most programs do not offer the succession of building block classes that traditional universities offer. For example, a student may find an advanced chemistry class but may not be able to find an introductory class to properly prepare herself for the subjects covered in the advanced class.
Similarly, MOOC programs are not designed with majors and minors in mind. Because there is no structure in place for earning a degree, nor guidance counselors to advise on an efficient academic road map, students may struggle with choosing appropriate classes for their intended field of study.
MOOCs benefit learners all around the world by offering varied, low-cost education to all who enroll. However, these large-scale online courses have their shortcomings. Without the structure and practical experiences that go along with a traditional university education, students may fall behind or find gaps in their skills and knowledge. Students must weigh the pros and cons of MOOCs with their individual learning styles and educational needs before deciding how MOOCs will work best for them.
In conclusion, MOOCs have both good attributes and bad attributes. It can be difficult to concentrate and maintain focus. But, if students apply themselves and strive to keep distractions to a minimum, then they will have few problems. Students who apply themselves will be rewarded for their diligence. The MOOCs can seem impersonal, but the societal relationships, not to mention networking opportunities, that students can build in the MOOCs they take can not be discounted in terms of importance. As with anything regarding education, “you get out of MOOCs what you put into MOOCs.”