What would it be like to be in the Far East corner of the world and be part of a study program conducted in the West? Truly a rewarding experience!
This is what we are witnessing now in the field of education and it is definitely benefitting a number of eager students in various parts of the world. Technology has opened the windows of learning to many in different parts of the world in the form of MOOCs.
This acronym as most of us are already familiar with stands for “Massively Open Online Course” and has a huge reach across the world, much more than we could possibly imagine. The reason could probably be that it offers a unique opportunity to anyone interested without the barriers of age or qualification.
Tracing the history of MOOCs, the idea that networks could provide knowledge inspired the Canadian educator George Siemens to use the concept of “connectivism and connective learning.” Along with Stephen Downes, he developed a format of online courses which were open to all. It was called Connectivism and Connective Learning / 2008 and gave an opportunity to a large number of students to connect among themselves. They used many platforms such as the forums, blogs and social networking sites and learning changed from a personal to an interconnected one.
The term MOOC was coined during one such class to 25 tuition paying students at the University of Manitoba along with 2300 students who took the classes free of cost.
This concept of MOOC has taken the world of education into its folds and students from all walks of life are becoming a part of it. It is massive as it encompasses a large number of students which may not be possible in a classroom atmosphere. It is open as it can be accessed by anyone interested without any criteria for admission and in some cases, as no payment courses. The connections between the instructor and students are open in that the exchange of knowledge is a two way process. It is completely online in the sense that learning is only through the web and in no other form. This is exactly the concept behind MOOC.
What makes MOOC so popular?
It is accessible to anyone who has an internet connection and learning can occur at any time charged to the learner. The interactive platforms provide new insights to knowledge, ideas and perspectives to the participants. Peer learning and learning by networking is an advantage. It opens a world of learning possibilities to many who could not find avenues to learn and manage a career. It gives an equal opportunity to all to interact online and learn something different.
The flexibility it offers regarding pace of study, access through any online tool with no limitations of time or boundaries makes it an attractive option. It provides an opportunity to a large number of learners to access high quality courses, sometimes from prestigious universities spread all over the world. It helps build a community of students and professors that is on an interactive mode. Exchange of information and contact with faculty from reputed universities is a learning experience by itself.
On completing a course, a learner has the immunity satisfaction of having acquired new skills which can open new doors of career opportunities.
The question uppermost in the minds of many is 'Whether MOOCs can change the concept of higher and continuing education?'
It can turn out to be a revolution in itself if it really reaches out to people who else have limited or no access to higher education. The reason may be accessibility or even funding. Being free of cost, it can benefit a number of people for what this otherwise would have been a distant dream.
It is definitely making an impact in developing countries especially in rural areas where access is limited or does not even exist. If MOOCs inspires people to take on educational courses and importantly complete it, then it will be a major success. It could bring more people to the learning table. It will bring in a rare genre of learners who will educate themselves out of mere interest and also those who will take it up to update their knowledge.
It could bring in people from different walks of life like experienced professionals; stay at home parents, entreprenens and even school or college students who may be looking out for additional know how or skills.
It is changing the concept of education and widening its reach in the course of time. Perhaps in a few years from now, more and more universities will offer MOOC and widen the gamut of access to quality education.
And employers will start acknowledging MOOCs as serious learning programs and consider it as a qualification at work. Some MOOC courses are offering certificates to those who complete the program.
Are MOOCs going to be limited to certain areas of education is another valid question which will arise in the minds of many.
Although the courses in the beginning were limited, many interesting programs are opening up which will cater to the needs of people from various backgrounds. Initially science and technology were the popular ones but now it has expanded to Finance, Literature, Psychology, Management Studies, Art, Music and much more. The boundaries of courses under MOOCs will expand as more and more learners are eager to use it.
If knowledge, skills and know how are going to be the parameters that will shape professionals of individuals, then MOOCs are here to stay. They will certainly be accessed by a wide network of people from different backgrounds, countries and for a huge variety of reasons.