The Dominion Post

Getting a taste of uni from your living room

Millions of people are going online to learn from the world’s best lecturers, writes Blayne Slabbert.

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AS STUDENTS around New Zealand head to university this month to further their education, thousands of others are logging on in their homes to do the same thing.

However, they may be studying with lecturers from universiti­es such as Stanford or Harvard, rather than Canterbury or Victoria.

Massive open online courses (Mooc) take what the web does best – sharing informatio­n – but do it in a formal way.

Mooc consist of a mix of video, writings, live webcasts and forums to teach students and aim to make education cheaper and more accessible.

When they first launched a few years ago they were seen as the beginning of the end of universiti­es, but they are a long way from offering formal degrees and creating the learning environmen­t of a tertiary institutio­n.

Mooc are most popular with curious people who are looking to learn for personal interest or profession­al developmen­t.

This is backed by a report from Deloitte which shows the No 1 aspiration of members is to learn more about a subject area, not to complete a prescribed subject curriculum.

It’s an incredible concept that lets anyone have access to some of the best lecturers in the world, mostly for free.

Kiwi universiti­es have dipped their toes into the world of Mooc with Massey, Auckland and Waikato offering some courses.

However, the most popular source is a mix of old, familiar institutio­ns and up-and-comers in the education world.

One of the biggest providers is Coursera, which partners with the top universiti­es and organisati­ons to offer free courses online.

It has about 4 million users and their partners include Princeton and Stanford universiti­es in the United States.

They offer hundreds of courses ranging from music of

Massive open online courses (Mooc) are an excellent tool for current or prospectiv­e university students as people can scan through course topics they are interested in before spending thousands on tuition. the Beatles, to advanced chemistry and introducti­on to public speaking.

However, a report from the University of Pennsylvan­ia last year showed the completion rate of its 16 courses was just 4 per cent.

The statistic was used by educationi­sts as proof that Mooc would never replace traditiona­l learning institutio­ns.

While that may have been the initial intent of some Mooc, most now see themselves as offering content for people to dip in and out of, just like a library. They can also be seen as a replacemen­t or complement to the traditiona­l textbook – just watch the course instead of reading the book.

They are also an excellent tool for current or prospectiv­e university students as people can scan through course topics they are interested in before spending thousands on tuition.

Also, having access to more informatio­n from a different university can help a student grasp some of the concepts from a course.

Some Mooc are trying to increase their completion rate by offering motivation in the form of certificat­es.

These do not carry the weight of a qualificat­ion from a formal institutio­n but having something meaningful to work toward could provide the drive people need to see a course through to the end.

However, the biggest winner is the average person with a curiosity for knowledge, especially those who don’t live near a tertiary institutio­n.

Have you every wanted to learn about the weather and global warming? Take a look at the climate change course from open2study.com. Maybe you want to learn more about keeping your digital life protected. Try the introducti­on to cyber security on futurelear­n.com.

The internet has, and will, forever change how we learn and Mooc are a part of that. The amount of informatio­n available in the world is baffling and anything that helps people work their way through it to find what they need will have a place in our lives. You won’t having the bragging rights of someone who has spent thousands completing a degree but you would’ve learnt something for free.

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