Online But Not Connected: The Challenge MOOCs Face in the Promise of Internet Education

Online But Not Connected: The Challenge MOOCs Face in the Promise of Internet Education

Online learning courses have notoriously low completion rates. An informal study by Ph.D. candidate Katy Jordan found that average completion for massive open online courses, commonly known as MOOCs, is about 7%. While MOOCs have been touted as a catalyst for change in higher education in particular, the coming revolution may have been overstated with completion rates this low.


Equality of access is at the heart of much of the hubbub surrounding MOOCs. They provide free or low-cost access to the world’s top lecturers and instructors. Therefore, they ostensibly provide world-class, college-level instruction at a steep discount. MOOC services like the courses Coursera and Udemy offer insure this by providing video lectures, texts, assignments, and projects. At the end, they offer a certification confirming completion of the course.


But MOOCs may be trying to mimic college courses too closely. A quick browse of the courses starting soon on Coursera show that courses tend to be between 6 to 12 weeks long and require an average of anywhere between 4 and 16 hours of work per week. In other words, while MOOCs may be vastly cheaper than the traditional college course, they still require heavy time commitments. These courses may just be too long or too intensive for people who want to learn a new topic as a side project or hobby. Very few courses offer the option of being broken up in smaller increments and none of the courses give credit for partially completed courses.


As they currently stand, MOOCs are not taking advantage of all that the internet has to offer. They are still being taught by the book in the age of the internet. In stark contrast with the networked nature of the internet, they only provide linear instruction, there is an all-or-nothing logic to course completion, and they deliver courses in a rigid and vertical timetable. Coursera and Udemy fail to even offer similar suggested courses, much less suggestions for continued learning if a student did complete a course — or were looking for a more advanced course on the same topic. So, yes, MOOCs are, as the name suggests, on the internet, but they fail to be of the internet.


Placing courses onto the internet potentially gives us the ability to break down their components into smaller discrete chunks and gives students the option of where to go after completing a lesson. For instance, an introductory calculus lesson can be a short lesson on how to take a simple derivative. From there, the course can give students the option to learn to take more complex derivatives, to learn how to integrate, or to learn how derivatives may be applied in other topics such as physics or economics.


Online learning gives us the opportunity to rethink how people tailor their own educations based on their needs and desires. MOOCs may still revolutionize — and democratize — education, though not necessarily in the ways people originally expected; If we would only learn from, instead of fighting, the logic of the internet.

Pavel Dmitriev


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