Courses to do online
It all sounds great for people who, for one reason or another, can't go to a traditional university. But do moocs have anything to offer students already studying at a bricks-and-mortar institution? People like me, who hate the niggling feeling that they might be missing out on a bargain?
Well, I've signed up for a mooc in microeconomics. I did it because I'm thinking about whether to do a masters, and what to study. I'm testing my resolve: if I enjoy it enough to study in my own time, maybe I'm ready for masters. Better to find out before I hand over the money.
Why else would a university student consider a mooc? You could use it to boost CV – it shows you're motivated, you have a variety of interests and you're not struggling with your workload. Although before you sign up for 10 (I mean, they're free, right?) have a read of Leonie Veerman's blog on why you shouldn't live for your CV.
And before you can use an online course to help you get a job, employers have to learn what they are and respect them. University isn't just about what you learn but proving you know it. The only proof you did your mooc is that you clicked on "I promise not to cheat" on the honour code. This is changing though: one of the biggest mooc organisers, Coursera, is trialling facial recognition software to monitor students, and charging a small fee for verification.
Moocs are extra tuition from a different perspective. Dreading that compulsory class you know you'll suck at, the one with the 50% fail rate? Mooc to the rescue. Free preparation: better than failing and suffering the consequences to your grade point average and student loan.
Do moocs pose a threat to old school universities? Should we fear that, before we've even paid them off, traditional university degrees will go the way of floppy disks?
Probably not. As Patrick McGee writes, they are a long way from ready to replace traditional degrees. A mooc v trad uni mega-battle to the death is unlikely – instead online courses offer another option on higher education's menu of delights.
Moocs still have teething problems. A Coursera course – oh so ironically about planning online courses – crashed recently, unable to cope with the thousands of students trying to join online discussions. Moocs are limited to subjects that can be assessed with multiple choice exams, marked automatically. Written any essays in your degree? Your professor's critique of them can't be replicated by a mooc – yet.
As for me, despite not making a single friend in a cohort of 37, 000, I revelled in the chance to learn what I was interested in, on my own terms. Moocs are a new take on education – and we traditional university students needn't miss out.
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