Massively Open Online Classes

One of the exciting innovations for education is the Massively Open Online Classrooms that colleges around the world have begun to offer. While the idea of online classes or distance learning is not a new phenomena, the process of using well recognized brand name schools to widely distribute lessons is new. Companies such as edX, Coursera, as well as a number of other private companies are striking partnerships with colleges to offer their courses online. The partnership universities, such as Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, are offering completely free courses to anybody with an internet connection. These courses are a compilation of recorded lectures, quizzes, and assignments. The lectures are sometimes actual recorded in-class lectures, from the hosting university. Other times, courses are recorded solely for the purpose of the MOOC course. The method of distribution raises questions of how beneficial the MOOCs are for student’s learning experience.

University's motivation

The motivation behind universities developing online courses are not always the same as the motivations behind students seeking quality education. While presently, the popularly acclaimed MOOCs are offering completely free courses, there is no question that future profit motives exist. A university’s costs incurred for holding a online class is exponentially smaller than that of a actual classroom. The value created by a teacher is expanded when effectively able to teach tens and thousands of students rather than hundreds. Additionally, the number of students a teacher is able to serve is no longer restricted per the classroom size. Oppositely, this shift in the ability for a teacher to be free of classroom size restrictions may be the balance needed to help improve teacher salaries. The ability for a teacher to teach a larger group of students can allow teachers to be paid respective to the teaching ability. Regardless of the motivation, the practices used by these online courses have historically not been equivalent to in-class lectures or lessons.

The pedagogy behind MOOCs

The MOOC courses are currently based on pedagogically proven methods to engage the student in online learning environments. The online video lecture classes are interspersed with quizzes between topics, evaluating if students understood the core content as they are learning. Additionally, contrary to popular belief, the online courses encourage student interaction in the classes. Discussions, peer-grading, as well as in-class group projects are common parts of the classes. Learning platforms, such as Coursera and edX have created discussion threads for every quiz. The discussion threads allow students who do not understand a quiz to ask questions, while more experienced students can help answer the questions.

Social aspect

While the courses themselves are taken alone, they are not completely socially isolated. The opportunity for discussion spurs vibrant conversations based on the lecture content. In an attempt to reduce the isolation of online classes, the courses encourage students to engage with the classmates, rather than passively listening to the lecture. Similarly, nearly all the courses held by Stanford, on the Coursera system, require students to complete group projects for full class credit. The group projects require students to connect with other classmates, based on geographic proximity, and collaborate on a class topic related project. These various modes of quizzing, discussion boards, and in-person class projects are applying a variety of effective pedagogical methods to the online platfor.

Comparing to alternatives

Online learning compared to in-class or one-to-one tutoring raises questions of viability. While the method of one-on-one teacher is definitely of greater value to a student, it is many times an experience reserved for the few. gmailFalling costs of government subsidies for schools and growing number of students seeking to enter higher education are reducing the number of quality learning opportunities available for the majority of students. As a result, the question behind alternative to the one-to-one or small classroom learning experiences are natural. Without claiming that online classrooms are equal, we can confidently state that the value behind online classrooms is a question worth researchig.

Drive to hybrid

Online courses seek to discover and implement the highest quality teaching experiences. In 2010, the United States Department of Education issued a detailed report showing that online learning methods are, on average, at least as effective as face-to-face learning. The online courses seek to overcome the problem where students forget the concepts not learned because they do not review the content. By providing students with immediate feedback, through quizzes, students know whether or not they understood a concept. The method, referred to as Mastery Learning, was one of the methods shown in a seminal paper seeking to provide students in group learning environments a learning experience equal to that of one-to-one tutoring. Grounded in proven methods of pedagogy, the online courses and providers are seeking out teaching methods that are known to be the most effective for students. This could be thought of as a scientifically proven student-centered method.


edX Website

Coursera Website

Study posting Coursera's incorporation documents explaining profit motive. Study from Gilfus Education Group

Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies

The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring