What are the downsides of MOOCsThe 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.

Class Size

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.


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.

Real-World Application

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.

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.

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