Massive open online courses make post-secondary achievable for those with societal constraints
Post-secondary education, or higher learning as some would call it, is merely a pipe dream for some people. The fees associated with enrolling in a university or college, including tuition, books and other student fees, are sometimes prohibitive. Not to mention the strict and varied schedules that must be followed in order to complete the courses.
The growing trend of massive open online courses (MOOCs) introduced in 2006 are changing that perception, offering many options completely free to students. MOOCs are online courses providing unlimited participation and an interactive user format, including forums providing interaction among students, professors and teaching assistants.
The list of well-known post-secondary institutions offering MOOCs continues to grow, with Harvard, MIT, and the University of Alberta included.
More and more universities and colleges are participating in the MOOC movement because it’s good for their reputation and branding and can help attract new students. There is also an altruistic aspect, creating greater equality to access higher learning opportunities.
University and college courses can be accessed worldwide through external providers who have created partnerships with various institutions. External providers are the ‘hosts’ of the courses and may provide broad or specialized areas of study. Some of the providers are for-profit, such as Coursera, and others are non-profit, including EdX, a provider created by Harvard and MIT universities.
Having access to these courses means anyone from anywhere in the world can learn valuable skills, as long as they have access to a computer and Internet. Additionally, as rapidly as technology is advancing, it’s becoming more difficult for people to maintain their current jobs and upgrade their skills. This is where MOOCs serve one of its greatest purposes.
“Millions of people lack the skills needed for new and better jobs, and increasing automation will only widen the gap,” says Rick Levin, CEO of Coursera in the United States. “Governments and non-profits focused on workforce development are eager to work with us and our university partners to deliver skills education to populations at an unprecedented scale.”
Free courses currently available include coding, business management, Indigenous peoples and language courses including Dutch, German, French, and more.
“There are literally thousands of courses available from hundreds of schools worldwide,” says Annette Kutchaw, an IT professional in Ontario working for Coursera and MOOC participant. “If a new concept or business practice is introduced in my field, the first place I look is a MOOC site to see if a free course is available. The benefit being, I don’t have to wait for approval to start learning. The cost is minimal and sometimes completely free if you don’t include my computer and Internet costs, and my skills are always up to date.”
However, there are potential downsides to taking a MOOC versus traditional courses. Courses cannot be used towards credits for a certificate, diploma or degree, but most courses can be “challenged.” If you take a free course and have learned the content, you can likely use it that way to earn credits. Also, if you are taking a course from an international institution, there may be language and cultural barriers.
Regardless of whether you’re looking to keep your skills up-to-date, or a first-time student exploring different interests, the MOOC model is an accessible way for most people to attain higher learning opportunities.
If the trend continues to grow, we’ll likely see more and more post-secondary institutions offering courses through a MOOC platform, businesses may encourage employees to pursue courses and government agencies will begin using it as a tool to break down barriers for the undereducated and/or the underemployed. The possibilities are endless.