Making the case for MOOCs

Students from across the globe could remotely access a MOOC.

Students from across the globe could remotely access a MOOC.

The proliferation of higher education Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) – the practice of offering widely available classes to anyone online – has stirred up quite a bit of debate in academic circles. Views on the burgeoning teaching method range from heralding it as an education equalizer to dismissing it as just another flavor of the month trend. The truth may lie somewhere in between those two extremes. MOOCs certainly have their place in the modern academic landscape and are capable of delivering a high quality education to students. However, it is but one available teaching method, and there’s no reason to think that it will replace the traditional classroom model any time soon.

Cutting the costs of higher education
Supporters and critics of MOOCs alike could be forgiven for predicting its gradual domination of academia. There are many advantages of online courses that strike at the heart of higher education limitations. MOOCs offer an affordable alternative to a traditional college stay and the skyrocketing tuition costs that come with it. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the price of getting a degree at a 4-year public institution, including tuition, room and board, rose 42 percent over the last decade. For students who find the cost of a college degree to be prohibitively expensive, remotely accessing MOOCs would appear to be an appealing alternative.

The giant scale of MOOCs also increases access to higher education. Whereas even the largest lecture hall may only seat a few hundred students, a single MOOC can support thousands of participants connected through classroom software. The convenience of being able to access college course material without having to step foot on campus could bring higher education to thousands of young adults who might otherwise consider the costs both financial and personal too significant to take on.

Losing the personal touch of the classroom
Randy Riddle, a consultant for the Center for Instructional Technology at Duke University, recently examined the potential for MOOCs and found that the method has some inherent limitations that would probably prevent these courses from ever overtaking the traditional classroom. The large-scale access of MOOCs prevents students from receiving a hands on education from their professors. The current model also doesn’t provide a support system for reaching out to students struggling with the material. MOOCs are better suited for students who prefer independent study with little to no oversight.

It’s still too early to tell to what extent MOOCs will be implemented across the larger academic landscape. They could one day become an education standard, with lessons in cyberspace replacing the cramped confines of a traditional classroom. On the other hand, they could be used to provide additional material, allowing professors to supplement the main coursework.

Will MOOCs become the standard model for education? Should universities be implementing more online curriculums? Tell us what you think in the comment section below!

Kate Beckham

Kate has been lighting up the blogosphere for over 5 years, with a keen interest in social media and new malware threats. When not sitting at a café behind her Mac, you’ll usually find her scouring the racks for vintage finds or playing guitar.