By Stephen Downes
The democratization of the MOOC cannot be underestimated
We have reached the point in the history of MOOCs where the initial excitement is waning and people are beginning to ask questions about whether MOOCs will play a useful role, much less a transformational one, into the future. This comes as record numbers of MOOCs are being offered by numerous providers MOOCs have become a worldwide phenomenon, with Britain’s FutureLearn launching in beta and the first Arabic MOOCs coming online.
The criticisms surrounding MOOCs are based in fears that they will replace professors with technology, concerns that the social and personal aspects of learning will be lost, concerns about the need for MOOC participants to be self-motivated and academically ready, and concerns about the high dropout rates all MOOCs have experienced. While some early experiments in certification have been started, there is also widespread skepticism that MOOCs can provide a route to traditional academic credentials.
These criticisms, far from identifying where MOOCs will fail, offer glimpses into the future of MOOCs. For while we may agree that these are weaknesses of the current model, the fact is that the advantages of MOOCs make it more desirable to press forward with the concept, rather than abandoning it and returning to traditional online and classroom-based courses and programs.
The first advantage is accessibility. As the name ‘Massive Open Online Course’ suggests, MOOCs are available to everyone, requiring only an Internet connection (now 40 per cent of the world’s population, according to the International Telecommunications Union). Even if certification is not available, the fact that participants do not need to pay tuition makes them especially attractive to people outside the traditional university audience. As evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of people registering for courses like Stanford AI (artificial intelligence), there is significant demand for open access to higher education content.
As important to accessibility is flexibility. People can, for the most part, pick their own time to study. Even if students miss the live online presentations, they can view the recorded archive. They can study the material at their own pace, and even if they fall behind, they can continue to access content, work through the examples and assignments, and continue to learn from the course.
[ Full article available at the Half an Hour blog: http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2013/11/moocs-will-ultimately-play.html ]