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Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) Overview

Higher Education Articles March 11, 2013

The acronym MOOC stands for “massive open online courses” and is one of the latest ways in which colleges and professors are reaching out to people who want to get an education in the convenience of their home or when they are juggling a career and family. These courses are usually taught to a large group of students, sometimes numbering in the thousands, by one professor via hands-off tools such as video lectures and slide shows which students watch on their own.

While MOOC is making higher education accessible to a greater number of people, often at a low cost or for free, not everyone is excited about this new twist on education. Leaders of colleges and universities that are not leading MOOCs worry that they are now up against more competition and will lose students and revenue.

MOOCs are different from OpenCourseWare in that the latter only offers text-based materials like lecture notes and study guides. An interactive, multi-dimensional element is added with MOOC. So far, no colleges offer credit for completing courses, but it is just a matter of time before this changes. For the time being, participants can look into other ways of obtaining credit for their work such as taking exams or by creating portfolios.

Some of the benefits of MOOC include:
•The ability to transcend physical barriers, language barriers and time zones.
•It is not limited to students; it can be used for any type of training.
•Individuals participate as they are able.
Possible drawbacks are:
•Individuals must be self-motivated to complete the course.
•Participants need a computer and Internet connection in order to access the materials, as well as being digitally literate.
•Course leaders may not be well-qualified since anyone has the ability to run a MOOC.
In a large, busy and diverse society, there is enormous potential for MOOCs to be successful. People with low-paying jobs can get necessary training to change careers, and home-bound individuals can get an excellent education. Over the next few years, it is expected for more large universities to start offering courses to the masses.

Who are the Major Players?

Several start-up companies are working with professors and universities to offer MOOCs. In the meantime, several schools are beginning their own efforts, and some individual professors are offering their courses to the world. There are five leading start-ups you should know:

Udemy – A for-profit platform, which allows anyone to setup a course. Instructors on Udemy are encouraged to charge a small fee, with the revenue split between the company and instructor. Many authors on Udemy do not have any academic affiliation, and they teach most of the courses.

Khan Academy – This is a non-profit organization that was founded by Salman Khan who is a Harvard and MIT graduate. In 2006, Khan Academy started as an online library of short instructional videos that Salman Khan made for his cousins. The library hosts over 3,000 videos on YouTube, and received financial backing from several angel investors, Google, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Content from universities are not provided on Khan Academy, but it does offer curriculum of computer-science courses along with automated practice exercises. A majority of the content provided on Khan Academy is geared toward secondary-education students.

Udacity – A for-profit company that was started by a computer science professor who worked at Stanford University. Udacity works with individual professors instead of institutions, has attracted a range of well-known scholars. Unlike other MOOCs providers, Udacity will concentrate on computer science and related fields for all of its courses.

edX – A non-profit effort run jointly by Massachusetts of Information Technology (MIT), University of California – Berkley, and Harvard University. edX is the leaders of the group that intend to add other university partners over time. They plan to give away the software platform that they have built to offer free courses, so everyone can use it to run MOOCs.

Coursera – A for-profit company that was started by two computer-science professors from Stanford University. Coursera sign contracts with schools that agree to use their platform to offer free college courses and they will receive a percentage of any revenue. Over a dozen of high-profile institutions, including University of Virginia and Princeton University have joined.

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