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Will MOOCs make college obsolete?

        Culture | Learning

MOOCs can be attended by thousands or even hundreds of thousands of students at a time. Plus, you don't have to be packed into a lecture hall.
MOOCs can be attended by thousands or even hundreds of thousands of students at a time. Plus, you don't have to be packed into a lecture hall.
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If you have an online degree, or are pursuing one, you may be seeing a shift in the way long distance learning is perceived by employers and the public in general. Early resistance to online education may have been caused by concern about diploma mills or worry about a lack of oversight in the virtual classroom. Those notions and other ideas about using computers and the Internet to educate students may soon be up for revision, too.

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are making waves in academia, and although it's too soon to determine their ultimate impact on the ivy-covered halls of universities across the country and the world, they are inspiring a lively debate among educators and students.

The first MOOC arrived on the scene back in 2011 when two Stanford professors offered their artificial intelligence class online -- for free. Enrollment topped 160,000, and the unprecedented success of the experiment inspired other schools, many of them top tier universities, to mount their own offerings [source: Morrison].

On the pro side of the MOOC debate, proponents believe making quality educational instruction available to the masses will provide higher quality and lower cost for many, and might easily be the best instructional model for the future. MOOCs can be attended by thousands or even hundreds of thousands of students at a time. In fact, Sebastian Thrun, one of the Stanford professors who started it all, sees a day in which as few as 10 universities fulfill the world's higher education needs.

That may be an extreme view, but a number of companies are springing up to take MOOC learning to the next level, including Coursera, Udacity and EdX. Many big universities are participating in MOOCs to one degree or another, too. Some examples are Stanford, Princeton, the University of California Berkeley and Duke University [source: Webley].

Where MOOCs may provide quality instruction for many, detractors often cite that very fact as its biggest failing. MOOCs don't offer any individualized training, much less tutoring or mentoring, and some educators feel adopting it as a for-credit standard in the future will leave some students behind and alienate others. A common argument is that individualized, face-to-face teaching works best in many cases because no single instructional technique will fulfill the needs of all students. The lively exchange of ideas that can electrify a classroom is the province of the brick-and-mortar school, not the virtual classroom [source: Leef].

Some find other aspects of MOOC instruction troubling. In the first MOOCs, plagiarism was a problem and overall completion rates were low. This may have been because some students were curious about the format rather than focused on scholarship. Still, for MOOCs to be widely offered for credit, they will have to be structured to provide oversight, consistency and student accountability.

How will MOOCs fare in the future? No one knows for sure, but the ultimate modern classroom may turn out to be a blend of the old and the new, with on-campus activities like labs, debates and other interactive engagements working in concert with massive online offerings to provide a comprehensive, flexible learning experience that's cost effective and convenient [source: PBS News Hour].


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