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The Estimated Future of the MOOC

MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) have been hailed as the next big thing in higher education. But how useful are they?
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   10-01-2014
MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) have been hailed as the next big thing in higher education. Whether through Coursera, EdX or another MOOC, many of us have come across them, and may even have signed up for a course or two. But really how useful are they? talked to a few users and found varying opinions.

Coursera, one of the most well-known MOOCs, received $20 million in funding from a combination of university partnerships and capital investors this past November. It’s a sign that MOOCs are perhaps the way forward as effective tools for higher education.

A University of Pennsyvlania survey released in November 2013 said that almost half of all the students they surveyed had enrolled in a MOOC for “curiosity” or “for fun”, while another 44% said they signed up to “gain specific skills to do my job better”. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the students are completing courses.

The number of Indian students signed up on Coursera is second in number (8.8% of signups) only to those from the United States. The courses are largely positioned to provide Ivy League education.

So who finds the marketing leads to a winning educational supplement?

We talked to several MOOC users, and here’s what they had to say:

The Student

I took a MOOC course because I felt I needed additional guidance in academic writing. I turned to the MOOC because I wasn't on campus to ask for help there. I completed the course but was rarely checking in.

I think no direct interaction only affected my attendance because I joined late, and not much was expected of me. This worked for me at the time because I was busy with sending written work to my supervisor and conducting interviews.

I didn’t really find the course useful. I felt that I may have misread the description, but it felt like it was much more simplistic than advertised, at least initially.

Chinmay Sharma, PhD candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London.
The University Professor

I have started a course on Coursera in sound design. My motive behind taking up the course was that it was a specialised course and promised to offer me insights into designing sound for video. I am yet to complete it.

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I have examined courses on Edx, Coursera and a couple of other online platforms that allow teachers to offer courses online. My favourite is Coursera.

As for encouraging students to take up MOOCs, the pedagogy on these MOOCs being significantly different, most students wouldn't probably be able to relate to / complete those courses. Since our classrooms also have students who do not have exposure to American popular culture and belong to various socio-economic backgrounds, it becomes difficult for some students to follow.

Some courses on MOOCs assume a certain degree of knowledge. Since my students come from various disciplines including bio-technology, teaching them in classrooms with aids created by myself, I feel would be more effective.

Professor Vasuki Belavadi, Associate Professor at the University of Hyderabad
The Home-Maker

I am interested in psychology and was looking for various sources to increase my knowledge on all the aspects of it. When I heard that Coursera offers a variety of courses I got really excited. The prospect of getting free education from the best colleges in the world was very promising. I must say I wasn't disappointed.

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First I took courses on psychology, neurons and brains, but soon started adding other courses which were not related to psychology at all. It is easy to study any subject offered by Coursera since most of the courses are offered at the beginners' level, and slowly progress to an intermediate level. None of the courses that I took were related to what I had studied earlier.

I don't have any problem with the absence of actual human contact. It is easy to stay interested in the course for many reasons. The choice of subject is based on one's interest. A recorded lecture makes it possible to listen to the courses, or parts of them, several times. Most of the courses are very well prepared.

Whenever I get stirred up about something and want to know other students' reaction, I check the students' forum to find out whether my feelings about any aspect of the course have been shared by other students.

Barbara Raghavan, Home-Maker, New Delhi
The Career-Person

I njoy learning and reading up about new subjects, topics, anything that I didn’t get a chance to study back in university. In 2012, I was working as a freelance journalist and had a lot of time to spend on exploring other things - which is why I decided to sign up for a few courses through Coursera.

My first course was on Game Theory. And I am a journalist. So while it wasn’t directly relevant, it definitely helped me understand a lot of things which could be indirectly used in Journalism.

Since the course is online, I am mentally prepared for it to not be too interactive. Maybe [the websites] could have a live question scroll or something, or it could be made interactive using social media. But [the current state] is fine with me. I like sitting and listening and doing my work.

I am signing up for another course, this time one on social media offered by Stanford University. I think MOOCs are a great opportunity for anyone who wants to study further, or just wants extra knowledge. [They] are very motivating and inspiring.

Sania Farooqui, Digital Content Producer at Digital Empowerment Foundation, Delhi
The Student

I was introduced to Coursera by a family member, when the concept of MOOCs was still a very new one. While the idea of taking an online course did not seem all that revolutionary to me, I was struck by the fact that leading universities from all around the world were offering courses in a wide variety of subjects. I realised that this was a fine opportunity to expand my knowledge and understanding of various subjects of interest to me.

Thus, my motivation in taking up Coursera courses stemmed primarily from my interest in some of the subjects being dealt with and my desire to attain a stronger grasp of those subjects. Moreover, the fact that many of these courses were being offered by world-renowned universities served to reassure me about their credibility and quality.

I ought to mention that I was also conscious of the fact that taking Coursera courses would enhance my employability in the future. Not only might the knowledge gleaned prove useful, but the simple fact of having taken such courses serves as evidence of one's thirst for knowledge and wide-ranging interests - attributes that many employers value. I know of a number of students my age who take Coursera courses with one eye on the impact that they might have on their employment prospects. That said, I must hasten to add that this was not my main motivation for taking up Coursera courses.

The courses that I took were simply those that appealed to me and matched my interests. They were on subjects as varied as EU law, Latin American culture and social psychology. I had not studied any of these subjects at college level - or indeed at any level - but I was genuinely keen on learning more about them. Additionally, an important determinant of whether or not I persisted with a course was its quality, in terms of both the nature of the syllabus and the manner of its exposition.

I do find it easy to stay interested in courses, provided they are organised and presented in an engaging manner. I do not particularly miss the element of human contact, nor do I go out of my way to make friends on the course forums. Of course, this is not to undermine the value of student interaction in a traditional classroom setting. I do believe that as Coursera becomes more and more interactive, the student experience it offers will only improve.

Sirish Raghavan, MSc Candidate in International Relations Royal Holloway, University of London



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