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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.
WHY GO FOR AN MOOC
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.”