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MOOCs and the Future of Higher Education

Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) are said to be reshaping the future of higher education. From Technology Review…

This fall, many of the country's leading universities, including MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton, are offering free classes over the Net, and more than a million people around the world have signed up to take them. These "massive open online courses," or MOOCs, are earning praise for bringing outstanding college teaching to multitudes of students who otherwise wouldn't have access to it, including those in remote places and those in the middle of their careers.

(Side note: Anyone else find the phrase “MOOC” as annoying as I do?)

How They Work

MOOCs take the classroom experience and break it up. A lecture may be split into a series of short (5 to 15 minute long) videos, some articles to be read, and some homework assignments. You can watch and read at your leisure. MOOCs remove the location and time-bound elements of a traditional classroom.

Using technology, there may even be group assignments involved.

Are MOOCs Really Revolutionary?

MOOCs have the potential to massively disrupt higher education - especially with big players like MIT, Harvard and the like getting involved.

But while the delivery models have changed, the learning models haven’t. These are still lectures. They still involve homework. It’s still a “classroom,” albeit a virtual one. I took a MOOC from Coursera and found it difficult to get through for those very reasons.

While I don’t have a better solution, I do think there’s huge, untapped potential to use technology to deliver radically different learning - not just more of the same done remotely.

I see a lot of potential in sites like Code Academy, which teach entirely through interactive learn-by-doing modules, and Team Tree House, which uses a hybrid of lectures and projects. But still, I think we can go further.

What do you think?

Try It Out

If you’d like to experience a MOOC yourself, you can find free offerings from…

  1. edX
  2. Coursera
  3. Udacity