Massive Open Online Courses are free college courses that allow students to learn on their own time and in their own space. Organizations such as Coursera, Udacity and edX provide hundreds, if not thousands, of courses globally. Do these course offerings signify the end of classic “brick and mortar” universities? This topic is hotly debated in the educational community. What are the advantages and disadvantages of enrolling in these free courses? The answers may depend on a participant’s goals. I, myself, have sampled one of the online courses that Yale offers: an exploration of Dante’s Divine Comedy. For me, this was a review of a favorite classic, so this course provided the opportunity to engage in a leisurely academic pastime. I was not an active participant in the class, but I thoroughly enjoyed auditing on my own time. However, in an April edition of the Sunday New York Times A.J. Jacobs provided some cautionary advice to potential online learners after he enrolled in a number of courses. He maintains that most of the professors were quite impressive. In fact, he states that MOOC’s, “Are creating a breed of A-list celebrity professors who have lopsided sway over the landscape of ideas.. . . . one of the casualties of these online courses might be the biodiversity of the academic ecosystem.” Another huge positive is convenience. Someone has the ability to “attend” these sessions anytime and anywhere on the globe as long as he has internet access. The other side of this coin is that only the disciplined will survive. Lack of a set class schedule may affect a person’s ability to complete the course. (AJ Jacobs admitted that he completed only 2 of the 11 courses he started.) The biggest drawback is human interaction. He cautions that those who wish to engage in the classroom experience may not have access to the professor, as some clearly warn against email access. So a student should not expect to have a personal relationship with the professor. Naturally, if a course has thousands of participants, this policy makes a lot of sense. Interaction with other enrolled students, however, is possible through electronic means like Twitter, Facebook, Facetime, Skype, and message boards. Opportunities abound for anyone who has the interest and determination to participate in MOOC’s. That person can continue a life-long learning experience for free. In some parts of the world, the MOOC’s provide unprecedented experiences for world class learning. Whether MOOC’s will replace traditional universities remains an open question.

Leave a Reply