Ask a sim­ple ques­tion th­ese days and more of­ten than not, some­one will re­spond with

“You could have Googled that, you know”,

and then pro­ceed to ig­nore you.

All hail Google the Ter­ri­fy­ingly Om­ni­scient, de­stroyer of friend­ships. But it is OK; Google’s bet­ter at help­ing you find free porn than your best friend.

Thanks to Google, you are not al­lowed to be ig­no­rant so long as you have a smart­phone and have un­re­stricted ac­cess to the In­ter­net. Coms­core es­ti­mates that an av­er­age of 5,134,000,000 searches are made a day on the big G.

Ob­vi­ously, it can be dan­ger­ous to rely on In­ter­net searches for all the things you know in the world. We have far too many peo­ple dol­ing out med­i­cal ad­vice. Just pop open your Face­book ac­count and some well-mean­ing friend has prob­a­bly posted up some link that says breath­ing can cause can­cer.

But for­get Google;

the In­ter­net is a wide re­pos­i­tory of in­for­ma­tion af­ter all.

Google is just one door that opens to knowl­edge, but when it comes to ed­u­cat­ing your­self, a new cham­pion has emerged.

Say hello to Mas­sive Open Online Cour­ses, or MOOCs.

MOOCs are ba­si­cally cour­ses on the In­ter­net that are open to ev­ery­one to en­roll. Which means that your ‘course­mates’ could all be learn­ing along with you from any­where, whether they be in chilly Scan­di­navia or the sunny Caribbean.

You might scoff and say that e-learn­ing is not ex­actly new, but MOOCs are a spe­cific model of e-learn­ing. They are prob­a­bly the ul­ti­mate in cor­re­spon­dence cour­ses, if you think about it.

Cor­re­spon­dence cour­ses, or cour­ses that do not re­quire you to phys­i­cally be at the in­sti­tu­tion where you en­rolled, have been around since the 19th cen­tury, like in the case of the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics which was one of the first uni­ver­si­ties to of­fer dis­tance ed­u­ca­tion in the UK.

MIT’s Open Course­ware was an en­deavor that put up a lot of MIT study ma­te­ri­als online for gen­eral use by the pub­lic, but you couldn’t re­ally call ‘read­ing online ma­te­ri­als’ much of a course.

What MOOCs do is to cre­ate a struc­ture that mim­ics what you would do off­line. You would find a course you like, wait un­til it takes en­roll­ments, sign up and then re­ceive a grade.

Thou­sands of pro­fes­sors would prob­a­bly com­mit harakiri if they were ex­pected to per­son­ally grade all MOOC stu­dents’ sub­mis­sions. So in­stead, most MOOCs rely on ei­ther peer re­view or self­assess­ment meth­ods like pre-pro­grammed ob­jec­tive quizzes that are timed.

MOOCs orig­i­nated in the North Amer­i­cas, with the big­gest MOOC plat­forms cur­rently be­ing Cours­era

and edX. In Europe, there is iver­sity and Fu­tureLearn, while China has also jumped onto the band­wagon with icourses.cn.

China’s sina.com con­ducted a sur­vey in Au­gust 2011 and found that 94.5 per cent of the 1,600 peo­ple sur­veyed were in­ter­ested in online open cour­ses, whether at home or abroad.

What about the de­mand in other coun­tries? Well, judg­ing by how the just-launched iver­sity man­aged to pull over 100,000 en­rol­ments, peo­ple are warm­ing to the idea of cour­ses they can sim­ply en­rol for online, for free, taught by rep­utable uni­ver­si­ties.

Ed­u­ca­tion is an ex­pen­sive af­fair and for many work­ing adults, quit­ting their jobs to study full-time is of­ten not an op­tion. MOOCs of­fer free­dom, flex­i­bil­ity and let them keep their day jobs.

As far as ac­cred­i­ta­tion is con­cerned, MOOCs have still a long way to go be­fore you could put an MOOC course on your re­sume, un­less you have a ver­i­fied cer­tifi­cate.

But for some fields like com­puter sci­ence, even ver­i­fied cer­tifi­cates from MOOCs hold some weight as the way cour­ses are struc­tured, you can’t just fake fin­ish­ing a course to get ac­cred­i­ta­tion even if it is all done online. Many uni­ver­si­ties al­ready do of­fer online learn­ing or dis­tance learn­ing op­tions, but MOOCs are dif­fer­ent as they of­ten do not con­form to spe­cific de­gree re­quire­ments and are free, with only a pay­ment re­quired if a stu­dent wishes to gain a ver­i­fied cer­tifi­cate.

The Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics was one of the first uni­ver­si­ties to of­fer dis­tance ed­u­ca­tion in the UK.”


One thing that is prov­ing to be a draw to MOOCs is the par­tic­i­pa­tion of es­tab­lished uni­ver­si­ties. In­sti­tu­tions like Yale and the Univer­sity of Read­ing have joined many oth­ers in of­fer­ing up their cour­ses for free. With known names, stu­dents are far keener to take up cour­ses as they’re as­sured that at the very least the course con­tent has been aca­dem­i­cally ver­i­fied.

It sounds like a vir­tual smor­gas­bord of cour­ses now, doesn’t it? The free­dom to pick and choose cour­ses ac­cord­ing to in­ter­ests and suit­ing your sched­ule seems like a dream, as com­pared to the tra­di­tional route of hav­ing to take cer­tain cour­ses to fit de­gree re­quire­ments.

The only thing is that un­like a ‘real’ univer­sity, you won’t be able to con­tact your pro­fes­sor di­rectly and in­stead have to rely on course fo­rums where you will par­tic­i­pate in group think with your peers.

For peo­ple want­ing not to have to deal with their peers online, tough luck if you are tak­ing MOOCs. You will just have to suck it up and face things like peer re­view­ing as­sign­ments or deal­ing with peer com­ments on your own sub­mis­sions.

Still, be­ing able to take a Yale course in your py­ja­mas from the com­fort of your bed­room is still hard to pass up if the thought ap­peals to you.


Let’s face it. Job se­cu­rity is a thing of the past and try­ing to sur­vive in the work­place means con­stantly ‘up­grad­ing’ your skills and MOOCs make it eas­ier and more af­ford­able than ever be­fore.

One strength of cur­rent MOOC plat­forms is the ease of use and at­trac­tive­ness built into the MOOC frame­work. The web­sites are pol­ished, fast and easy to un­der­stand and nav­i­gate. En­rolling takes only a few min­utes and how much ef­fort you put into a course is en­tirely up to you.

MOOCs do need a fair bit of in­de­pen­dence and self-re­liance, as while the plat­forms will send you emails about the course progress and help you keep tabs on the syl­labus, you will not have any­one nag­ging you to turn in as­sign­ments or do the re­quired read­ing.

Still, hav­ing en­tire li­braries of knowl­edge and well-cre­ated, self-paced cour­ses at your fin­ger­tips is the kind of value propo­si­tion most peo­ple wish they had when they were younger.

MOOC cour­ses can vary in their for­mat and length, though typ­i­cally they con­sist of video lec­tures as well as as­signed read­ings. Some sub­jects re­quire a fi­nal project to be com­pleted by the course end and most, if not all, will have some form of quiz as part of the as­sess­ment.

The grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of MOOCs is a good thing. MOOCs are, in a way, a good shakeup of the way the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor has worked all this while, mak­ing skills-train­ing far more ac­ces­si­ble and af­ford­able than it has ever been be­fore. While MOOCs will not wholly re­place tra­di­tional means of ac­quir­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions, giv­ing peo­ple more op­tions and help­ing level the play­ing field for those who may have nei­ther the time nor the fi­nances for brickand-mor­tar in­sti­tu­tions, is true to the spirit of what the In­ter­net is all about. Knowl­edge, af­ter all, is power and there are few bet­ter uses for the In­ter­net than em­pow­er­ing the peo­ple who need it the most.

“Knowl­edge is power, and there are few bet­ter uses for the In­ter­net than em­pow­er­ing the peo­ple who need it the most.”

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