The Internet is opening up new possibilities in all areas of society. One educational outcropping made possible by the Internet is called a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). In the years since MOOCs were introduced, this type of course has become established as a viable educational format – though it’s not yet clear exactly what role such courses should play in post-secondary education.
MOOCs were introduced in 2008 when a few university professors decided to offer existing courses to a broader audience via the Internet. The online course content consisted of a variety of materials, including video lectures, PowerPoint presentations, text documents (course readings), exercises, and tests. The possibility of interaction with other students and the professor was offered through discussion areas. Course offerings were free (which is one meaning of the first “O” in MOOC) and were not for university credit.
The idea caught on, and by 2011 several large American universities and some non-profit organizations were offering MOOCs. Many of these courses were attracting tens of thousands of students from around the world, and a few had enrollment in the hundreds of thousands.
In that year, professors from Stanford University who had taught certain very popular MOOCs opened two different for-profit companies, Udacity and Coursera, to promote the idea. These companies then began to enter into agreements with universities that wished to offer MOOCs as alternatives or adjuncts to their normal course offerings.
Today the basic model for a MOOC remains the same. Many of the courses remain free with some universities offering credit and accreditation for their completion.
MOOC’s have attracted several kinds of learners. Some are current university students who wish to dabble in areas not required for their program. Others are university graduates who wish to expand their knowledge and increase their applicable job skills. Still others are curious or ambitious high school students who may have an interest in accruing college credit at a much lower cost.
Completion rates for those who start MOOCs is low, though courses with nominal fee’s attached have shown much higher completion rates and are vastly cheaper then their traditional off line equivalents. Also important to note, is that the low completion rate may be consistent with the intentions of many MOOC students, who work on these courses purely for a selective learning experience rather than with the goal of receiving a certificate of achievement (granted to those who complete all course work) for full completion of a course track.
MOOCs are still in the process of finding their place in the post-secondary education landscape. While there is a great deal of interest in this form of education, most commentators feel that MOOCs are a useful option in particular circumstances, but has not yet taken hold in a way that will destabilize the existing system of university education.