With potential to change the educational landscape, MOOCs are rising as an educational innovation. After an overwhelming initial response, MOOC providers are trying to sustain the momentum by bringing in more research and development using the latest technology backed by an effective pedagogy.
Massive Online Open Courses, or MOOCs, are a new phenomenon in the digital age which arose in this decade itself. The initial success of MOOCs was phenomenal in terms of huge enrolments of students to the extent that some educationists described it as a revolution in the field of education brought about by the technological advances.
MOOCs, a Liberating Way to Learn
First of all, let us understand what MOOCs are and when it originated. As the name suggests, if we read in reverse order, we understand that these are courses based on pedagogical principles, educational in nature with open access to anyone, or freely available without having to pay anything extra beyond the basic requirement of a computer system and internet connection. I say ‘internet connection’ because these courses are fully online and massive. By massive, we mean that these courses have immense capacity to incorporate large number of users which is literally impossible in the conventional face-to-face courses.
Now, doesn’t it sound exciting and liberating? We all have experienced somewhere in our life that we could not get a seat in a course which we desired to enrol for in the face-to-face mode. Moreover, most conventional educational institutes have stringent eligibility norms and selection criteria because of their limitation to accommodate only a few. This gives rise to competition in which some get selected and most are rejected. As a result, education continues to be a prerogative of the privileged and elite class.
MOOCs, on other hand, provide massive and open access to everyone and seem to be a strong contender in fulfilling the goals of democratization of education. The urge to democratize education along with the technological innovations gave rise to open educational practices. Open educational practices are embedded in the open education philosophy which believes that everyone should have access to high quality educational resources and freedom to construct and interpret his knowledge. MOOCs and OERs (open educational resources) are concrete manifestation of such a philosophy.
An integrated E-learning approach offered by MOOCs
The major players of MOOCs worldwide are Coursera, MIT’s Edex, and Udacity, to name a few, apart from the prestigious universities like Harvard, Cambridge, The Open University (OU) which are also providing courses on their own MOOCs. India has launched its very own MOOC platform SWAYAM — Study Webs of Active learning for Young and Aspiring Minds — in 2017. Besides, NPTEL, WizIQ along with Coursera and Edex are also actively providing MOOC-based courses to Indian learners. IIT Bombay collaborated with EDex to start its MOOC platform IITBombayX which provides a large number of hybrid MOOCs courses.
MOOCs: Genesis and Potential to Democratize Education
MOOCs have been instrumental in expanding the reach of higher education to the masses. Open education and online learning initiatives were pioneered by the United Kingdom Open University (UKOU). The connectivist theory of learning as propounded by George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier led to founding of their first MOOCs in 2008. Based on the connectivist model, this encouraged individuals to participate in interactive and collaborative manner. Hence, these MOOCs were named as cMOOCs.
However, cMOOCs could not achieve as much success as their adapted versions, based on behaviourist model, developed about three years after. In 2011, a course on artificial intelligence was launched by Stanford’s two professors, namely Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, who later founded Udacity in 2011. This course which was an instant hit and attracted about 160,000 users. Coursera was founded by two Stanford professors — Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng. MIT and Harvard founded EdX.
These three major MOOC providers along with their partner institutes offered 700 courses which got more than 8 million users enrolled till 2014. As these MOOCs were designed on the principles of behaviourism and made themselves distinct from the earlier cMOOCs, it came to be known as xMOOCs. Today, there are wide range of courses being offered by various MOOC providers on diverse topics like social sciences and humanities, law, engineering, art and design, life skills, health and medicine, business and management etc apart from computers and technology.
We can discern that there are two types of MOOCs presently based on the pedagogical approach:
Based on the behaviourist model of stimulus-response. The teacher is the sole contributor and transmits the information to the learners.
Based on the connectivist model of distribution of knowledge across a network of connections. The teacher’s role is to provide the best learning environment and facilitate collaboration and interaction among the learners.
The reason why cMOOCs could not garner as much users as xMOOCs may be attributed to connectivism being a new model and less understood by people familiar with the behaviourist approach among other factors.
MOOCS as a phenomenon and an educational innovation was acknowledged when the New York Times announced 2012 as “The Year of the MOOC”. Since then, MOOCs have been trying to improvise its online pedagogy and bring other educational innovations to envelop much greater proportion of learners to its fold. cMOOCs which are pedagogically advanced and proposed to be more relevant to the changing digital times has relegated to backstage. All the existing MOOCs are now xMOOCs, showing a tendency to revert to the convenient behaviourism-based instructional designing.
xMOOCs cannot be said to be a complete success as there are issues which need to be addressed such as the huge difference between the users who get registered and those who finally complete the course indicating a high dropout rates — even in online learning mode which boasts of being anywhere, anytime allowing learners the self-paced learning. Many researches are undergoing to assess the reasons and find out solutions to prevent those who get registered from dropping out.
Aspects such as student support services in online environment could be strengthened to address issues affecting student withdrawal from the courses. Then, there is the issue of accreditation of such courses and learners’ doubts whether they can get jobs and admissions into other institutions after successfully completing such courses. From the view point of MOOC providers, economic feasibility of MOOC courses is another issue as MOOCs are said to be completely open, free and accessible to all. So, how to monetize and sustain the business when courses are to be open and free remains a puzzle to many such companies willing to offer MOOCs.
The Way Ahead for MOOCs
Amidst all these limitations, we cannot deny the magnificent possibilities of MOOCs to achieve the goals of education and development. MOOCs is the need of today’s times and it provides an integrated platform for the implementation of the pedagogical principles and technology developments to realize the true meaning of education by providing opportunities to all.
cMOOCs can go a long way in adapting to the needs of an individual learner and their learning styles, only if its potential is optimally realized. This will bring in personalised learning which is in much talk these days in the field of education and learning. MOOCs are still at the evolving stage and it is expected that the coming times will see MOOCs becoming more accommodating in terms of pedagogy, learning styles, content delivery and interactivity to counter the dropout rates in these courses. Effective integration of modern and smart technology with pedagogy is what is required to make this educational innovation a great success in transforming the way education is imparted in the 21st century.