Online courses haven't been education revolution that many predicted, but they’re proving their value in some surprising ways.
The Promise: The Democratization of Education
Just a couple of years back, the advocates of MOOCs believed that these “massive open online courses” stood poised to overturn the traditional model of higher education.
In 2012, Time magazine screamed, "College is dead, long live college" in proclaiming the new MOOC model.
MOOC's interactive technology promised to deliver top-tier teaching from the world’s most prestigious universities...the Stanfords, the Harvards, the MITs...directly to the masses.
And they could do so not just to a few hundred students in a lecture hall, but via the Internet to thousands or even millions of students around the world.
And it was all free…or mostly so.
The tiny completion rates for most MOOCs drew increasing attention. The Harvard Business Review claims that while some 25 million students have signed up for MOOC courses, only 4% actually completed them.
Then some earlier experiments to use MOOCs at individual universities didn’t really get off the ground. Not to mention resistance from some professors who didn’t buy that an online course could replace their live "nuanced work" in the classroom.
Some Good News
A high percentage of those who completed their courses – some 88% of that 4% universe - reported real tangible benefits such as getting a raise, finding a new job or starting a business.
And a significant part of this was happening in underprivileged populations where the need was greatest. Others reported intangible benefits such as enhancing their skills.
And 4% or 25 million is still a substancial student body population.
The Bottom Line
So while MOOCs haven’t met the oversized expectations of early boosters who saw online learning as the way to democratize learning, they have still had some very real success.
The bottom line is that, for better or for worse, traditional methods of higher education have shown remarkable persistence as new models like MOOCs emerged.
But remember - it's still early days. If MOOCs do prove revolutionary, it will be because educational institutions have finally figured out how to use them. Often that means embracing a new technology and not fighting it.
Finally...for all MOOC Aficionados
Today there's thousands of MOOC classes out there.
As of January of 2016, just Coursera alone offered 1,563 courses from 140 institutions and had some 15 million students.
I've taken some great classes, but there's also bad apples too. Just like a real university.
So to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, you may want to know about Class-Central. They list all the available MOOC courses from all the different providers. And they have class reviews too. Definitely worth a click.
So good luck...and Never Stop Learning.
About the Author
I’m the Managing Director at Vantage Siam, an authorized Cambridge English Exam Centre and management training firm.
We offer "flipped" English language training via blended learning to both students and professionals in Thailand and also to remote learners throughout China.