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Massive open online courses, or simply MOOCs as they are popularly termed now, are online courses that are available for anyone to enroll for free. These have evolved as a technology-enabled means of imparting knowledge unlike the traditional method of face-to-face classroom teaching. These courses are administered through pre-recorded video presentations by professors who may also incorporate other audio and visual content in it. The length of the course depends on its type, sub-topics and course structure. The duration could range from hours to days or even weeks (normally 6-8 weeks). By providing domain-specific knowledge to learners at no or minimum cost and a certificate as an add-on, they have become quite popular all over the globe.

At the outset in 2012, MOOCs were offered free of cost and primarily targeted towards students at the undergraduate level; mainly those who were not enrolled in any academic institution. At present, there are around 15 odd websites, both non-profit and commercial, providing online courses on various topics ranging from business, design, and health, to law, marketing, and computing. Several platforms such as Udemy, Alison, Lynda, Coursera, and EdX have already established themselves as leaders in this field. The number of courses offered since 2012 on all MOOC platforms has increased dramatically. On its website, Alison claims to have 12 million learners with about 1000 courses and 1.5 million graduates. Udemy boasts of an extensive library of over 65,000 courses taught by expert instructors. EdX has approximately 10 million users taking more than 1,270 courses online. Coursera has 25 million learners with 2000+ courses and Udacity offers more than 120 courses with 1.2 million learners.

Source: Class Central- the MOOC aggregator. Available at https://www.class-central.com/report/mooc-stats-2017/

The above graph indicates that the response of the students towards MOOCs has been positive. Why have MOOC platforms become so popular and what is their relevance in the 21st century? The answer lies in the impact that MOOC have created in such a short span of time. One of the major reasons for their popularity is that they are available at a nominal fee; often it is only the certificate that needs to be purchased. Those who cannot afford to study at a reputed institution can learn from their distinguished faculty, albeit online. The certification provided on completion of the course is an added advantage as it adds value to one’s résumé. With no capping on enrolments, a large number of people (mainly the youth, eying the challenging and vast world outside) are able to learn from the comfort of their home. Many-a-times, students complain of not being able to retain what has been taught. Here again, MOOCs allow them to run courses as per their convenience and as many times as one wishes.

However, every coin has 2 sides. While proponents talk about the benefits MOOCs have on offer, the traditional teaching community has a different story to tell. Many in the latter group believe that teaching of this kind neither fulfills pedagogical nor quality assurance requirements for university teaching. They are of the opinion that online teaching can never replace person-to-person engagement in teaching and campus life which constitute such an important part of classroom education. In case of MOOCs, the large dropout rates, low completion rate, dependence on a stable network and the number of distractions that we have now adds to the woes.

Can we say that a new era has begun where going and studying in a classroom or a university is no longer required and has been replaced by a cost-effective method of advancing one’s career? It might be too early to comment. While it ensures knowledge without borders, the lack of personal attention means that doubts cannot be resolved easily. Both traditional and modern methods of teaching should be integrated. We can leverage technology to make pedagogies more interesting through intellectually stimulating audio and visual content. At the same time, teachers can understand the needs of every student and provide the space for interaction and participative learning. The student can be an active part of the learning process and not just a passive recipient.


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Parry, R., Moseley, A., Gretton, N., Tunstall, R., & Mobbs, M. (2016, April). Why MOOCs matter: The consequence of massive open online courses for museums, universities, and their publics. Retrieved from https://mw2016.museumsandtheweb.com/paper/why-moocs-matter-the-consequence-of-massive-open-online-courses-for-museums-universities-and-their-publics/

Shah, D., (2018, January 18). By The Numbers: MOOCS in 2017. Retrieved from https://www.class-central.com/report/mooc-stats-2017/

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Written By Siddharth Jain

Management Student at SSCBS, DU

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