How do MOOCs work?

The main characteristics of the MOOC can be categorized in the following manner: – informal setting learning via Internet for free or low fees – all materials presented can be shared by everyone, whenever needed – variety of assignments to be chosen from all professional disciplines – no enrollment needed, self-discipline is a key to successful learning – no language barriers considering the online translation tools – development of digital skills and networking. MOOCs are present at edX, the nonprofit start-up from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that recorded 370,000 students its first official courses this fall.

Coursera has reached more than 1.7 million and is less than 2 years in use MOOCs have been online for a few years as collaborative technical learning events, but this is the year when everyone wants in. Top universities are partnering with Coursera at a furious pace. It now offers courses from 33 of the biggest names in post-secondary education, including Princeton, Brown, Columbia and Duke. Google unleashed a MOOC-building online tool, and Stanford unveiled Class2Go with two courses.

Traditional online courses can charge tuition, carry credit and limit enrollment to a few dozen to ensure interaction with instructors, whereas MOOCs  are generally free, credit-less, solid and massive. Anyone with an Internet connection can enroll and the faculty can’t possibly respond to students’ individually. Classmates may count on one another in study groups organized in their towns, in online forums or for grading work.

The medium is the lecture. Khan Academy’s free archive of instructional videos, from 8 to 12 minutes, with videos pause up to twice, for a quiz to make sure you understand the material or, in computer programming, to let you write code. Feedback is electronic and the teaching assistants may monitor discussion boards. Home works and a final exam are optional. There are some students who are trying to cheat (case of submitting the same homework for one class) and there are cases of ill prepared students for the university-level work.

The hope is that that free courses can bring the best education in the world to the most remote corners of the planet, by helping them in careers development, as well as expanding intellectual and personal networks.  Ray Schroeder, Director of  Center for Online Learning, Research and Service at the University of Illinois, Springfield, emphasizes that three things matter most in online learning: quality of material covered, engagement of the teacher and interaction among students. The first is not a problem as more professors come from elite campuses, but having instructor’s connection and feedback with student’s interactions remains and issue to be resolved.

MOOC providers are getting more creative, especially in courses that involve writing and analysis. Coursera is developing software that flags those who assign very inaccurate grades and give their assessment less weight. Mr. Brown, the Hartford I.T. Manager, does not believe in peer feedback. The diversity of MOOC takers, from teenagers to retirees, and from across the globe, means classmates lack a common knowledge base and educational background.

This criteria should be pre-established in order to have better success in overcoming the learning obstacles. If one is looking for knowledge it is fine to use MOOC’s, but  if the goal is obtaining a degree, still a further improvement and sophistication of the distance learning system in MOOC’s needs to be conveyed.

More at:Success in MOOCs

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