To MOOC or Not to MOOC

A Perspective on Open E-learning Courses

MOOC – Move Over Offline Classrooms?

Not quite. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) take learning to the homes of millions of learners around the world. We could debate the effectiveness of MOOCs till the cows come home, but amidst criticism, MOOCs have managed to keep their learner base intact. In fact, the number of MOOCs and their enrolled learners have only grown over the years. 

So, Is There a Problem?

There is – from where I see it. 

Let me share my perspective on how MOOCs are ineffective in being a complete learning solution. My biggest problem with MOOCs is… their massiveness. I’ve been overwhelmed with the number of courses that have popped up on my screen for a particular topic. I’ve spent hours pouring over every course content to see if it will suit my requirement and ended up still searching one hour later. And courses that I did register for, either left me lost or unsated! 

This isn’t a just noisy rant about how MOOCs have not benefited me. It’s why I think we need more than just MOOCs to develop a holistic learning ecosystem.

Too Many to Teach

Do a small exercise. Go to any of the big e-learning provider sites such as Coursera, EdX, or Udemy. Check out the number of people enrolled in the course you wish to take. How many enrollments do you see? Thousands, sometimes tens of thousands? 

Think about what our contention was with our current education system. We had problems with schools and colleges trying to put students of all kinds under the same umbrella and expecting them to perform the same way. Just as a fish would fail miserably when asked to fly, a bird will fail miserably when asked to swim. No two people have the same requirement or the same grasping power. How on earth can MOOCs fulfill the different needs of each learner? One size does not fit all when it comes to learning. Here too, MOOCs fail as a learning solution. 

This is also one of the reasons why the drop-out rates in MOOCs are huge, as learners lose interest in the course mid-way.

The World is Not in The Cities…

Cities don’t constitute the world. There are more learners living in non-urban and non-developed areas of the world. Whether we believe it or not, there are places still that do not have enough infrastructure support to host MOOCs seamlessly. Developing countries do not yet have strong and reliable internet connections to let people go through online courses unhindered. Considering the limitations, are MOOCs robust enough to stand the test of low bandwidth and connectivity?

Yet another concern for me has been that most of the popular e-learning sites provide courses only in English. But do all learners around the world speak and understand only English? For example, in a country like India, where languages spoken differ from region to region, MOOCs delivered only in English will fail miserably in their learning goals. Add to it the different cultural issues that create a hindrance in the way of MOOCs.

If not MOOCs, then what? 

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not saying that MOOCs are an absolute waste of time; merely that MOOCs cannot be THE solution to make digital learning immersive and effective. MOOCs can only be part of a bigger solution that involve multiple modes of teaching – 

  • Blended learning can help MOOCs create a positive and permanent place in the digital learning ecosystem. In-person workshops or classes help gauge the real needs of the learner. This can never be ignored. MOOC can only be an addition or a supplement to classroom or face-to-face training. Visit our page, Bodh, to know more about some initiatives that we are coming up with in this area.
  • MOOCs can be combined with webinars or online Q&A sessions with an optimal number of learners to effectively provide feedback to learners and clarify doubts. What is optimal? Some researchers advocate a maximum of 20 learners for a ‘learning by inquiry’ model. It varies based on the learning design behind the course.
  • Specialised private online courses can be used by universities to effectively combine digital and traditional learning methods. This can help learners carve their own learning paths.

As a standalone strategy for digitizing learning, I don’t see MOOCs being effective. There are lessons to learn from the failure of MOOCs to completely replace university degrees. My take is that the only way to make MOOCs effective and useful is by retaining the human touch. A strong relationship between the instructor and learner is one of the more important factors that can lead to the success of education. A weekly interactive session with the instructor, continuous feedback, and a healthy discussion forum can all positively contribute to the success of online learning. 

As a pandemic-stricken world, schools and colleges are leaning towards remote learning to impart knowledge to their students. It wouldn’t hurt to analyse and take home lessons from our previous failures. 

Here’s hoping for a bright digital learning future.

References:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2013/12/11/are-moocs-really-a-failure/#3f3a9c5ddaa2
https://blog.edx.org/comparing-effectiveness-learning-moocs/
https://blog.softchalk.com/are-moocs-effective
https://harvardmagazine.com/2019/01/mooc

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