Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have generated a lot of support, as the potential to educate enormous numbers of people at once appears to satisfy the popular notion that better education throughout the world can improve the lives of many. The development of MOOCs is particularly exciting in an era where the teacher to student ratio has increased to where there are now often courses with one instructor for hundreds of students. MOOCs allow an almost limitless numbers of students to view the instruction of the highest quality professors from top education institutions while also providing means for interacting with other like-minded students from across the globe.
Now that the scale of education has been addressed, the MOOC revolution is likely to shift toward enhancing the quality of education. Digital tools provide potential to teach in ways that traditional classrooms could not, and determining what these techniques are and how they work could make education more effective and more efficient. Some argue that MOOCs are not particularly effective and point to low retention rates for MOOC courses. However, supporters of MOOCs suggest that the low retention rates are not particularly meaningful, as there is no incentive for people to sign up for a realistic number of courses. The result, they say, is that students may sign up for dozens of courses at a time before choosing which few courses to pursue. There is no incentive to un-enroll in MOOC courses, so they stay enrolled and their initial class registration leads to a data point for the low retention rate argument. Unlike at universities, where students must drop out of courses they do not plan to complete or else suffer the consequences of a low or failing grade for that course, there is no analogous accountability in online courses.
Many MOOCs simply provide videos and content from traditional classroom courses so that anyone with Internet access can learn from this high quality content. While this approach certainly helps with the scaling of education, it does not provided added benefits that digital tools have the potential to add. In coming years, MOOCs are likely to become more dynamic so that they increase engagement and motivation and promote beneficial interactions among students who would likely otherwise not find one another. MOOCs also have the potential to continuously incorporate new information or knowledge so that they stay up-to-date and highly valuable for their audiences. Many researchers also believe that student control over when to listen to lectures or engage with course content could improve learning when compared to traditional classroom settings with predictable course times and lecture structures.
What will make MOOCs particularly valuable in the future is their ability to leverage growing capability in technology for the purposes of education. Technology provides opportunities for learning that are simply not afforded by the traditional classroom. However, the real-time and in-person nature of traditional courses has value that may not be able to be mimicked by MOOCs, and it is therefore likely that these two divergent systems for learning will need to find a way to coexist if we are to truly optimize learning.
As MOOCs become more accepted as powerful tools for education, their value is also extending to areas outside of education. People from different industries are beginning to use MOOCs as a way to establish themselves as thought leaders in their fields and as ways to connect – and stay connected – to customers, investors, and other critical decision makers. We work to find the best ways to leverage these types of eLearning tools to promote the objectives of professionals in all industries and guide these professionals through the process of strategically developing and implementing tools to meet their objectives.
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