MOOCs have been considered for a very long time a great way of learning, because they are useful, diverse, surrounded by communities and mostly free. However, lately MOOCs have faced several challenges and criticisms such as its heavy reliance on user-generated content which creates a rather chaotic learning environment, and the mere fact that digital literacy is almost always a prerequisite if someone is going to take an open online course. But are they really dead? Let’s discuss the yes and the no.

Yes, they’re dead

And there’s no chance of reviving the world of MOOCs. Let’s take for example this Wikispaces guide which suggests five challenges of MOOCs:

Relying on user-generated content can create a chaotic learning environment

MOOCs have a chaotic learning environment because most of the content is user-curated and there’s clutter everywhere. Sometimes, forum-style learning becomes ineffective when there is information overload and content is cluttered throughout a given MOOC (or learning, in general) platform.

Digital literacy is necessary to make use of the online materials

Like, you really need to know how to maximize all those available digital tools for learning, such as note-taking apps or tools like Khan Academy and TED Talks. Most of the learning materials in MOOCs are online and for a digital immigrant, adjusting to a fully online way of learning can be really taxing.

The time and effort required from participants may exceed what students are willing to commit to a free online course

There are courses which require a certain number of hours from students, but the latter will only commit for so much before giving up or getting disinterested. Students are not willing to devote as much time to free MOOCs as they would do to a regular paid course (whether online or offline) because there won’t be any drawbacks if they don’t commit.

Once the course is released, content will be reshaped and reinterpreted by the massive student body, making the course trajectory difficult for instructors to control

Because the course content is user-generated, students will revise and alter the content over and over again so there’s no consistent content that is delivered to students. Also, instructors have trouble controlling what content students will write because of the open nature of MOOCs.

Participants must self-regulate and set their own goals

Unlike in a formal education setup, students need to be self-enabled and self-paced and not everyone enjoys that. Although students are expected to be self-paced, open-based courses are not a one-size-fits-all kind of program, and students who are still in the emergent phase of self-paced learning will have trouble adjusting to the nature of MOOCs.

No, they’re absolutely not dead

Perhaps I was only scratching the surface and I didn’t discuss the “alive” side of MOOCs. So, the other side is that MOOCs have endless possibilities. I’m redundant on that “endless possibilities” phrase, but, when you look at the grand scheme of things, it’s actually a faster and easier way of learning. Here are the reasons why:

Equal rights to education

Let’s face it. We pay a premium so we can get to the best academic institutions. And not everyone can pay such a price. MOOCs on the other hand, allow people, even those who can’t afford to pay such a high price, to choose from a varied range of programs available and enroll in the course of their choice.

Learning is in a more informal setup

The word “informal” might not ring great to everyone, but trust me, MOOCs allow students to work at their own pace, and at a place and time that’s most convenient to them so they won’t feel pressured or stressed by stringent deadlines and tough classroom rules.

Learning beyond physical boundaries

Some people think that learning is limited by the proximity of the instructor and the student. They however, forget to factor in advances in learning, and that’s where MOOCs and e-learning in general join the conversation. No longer are instructors and students separated by distance, because the web is the learning platform. Instructors create lessons and upload to learning platforms, then students can modify the content according to how they see and deem it fit, based on their understanding of the lesson.

Encourages active learning

Traditional instructors deliver their lessons by endlessly lecturing this and lecturing that, and that’s passive. Modern educators, on the other hand, encourage student participation by giving assignments which sharpen critical thinking skills, or discussing an important issue such as politics or global warming. Active learning isn’t just about giving assessments – students and teachers could also debate on whatever topic is relevant to their lesson.

So what’s next?

MOOCs, despite what others may think, still have a lot of opportunities for mass user adoption and high usage growth. The benefits far outweigh the disadvantages, and it sure does help that open courses are another avenue for e-learning, but on a free and open scale.

There  are still, of course, regular universities where we have to pay, and then there are open universities with massive online open courses available for anyone to take. Imagine the possibilities.

Any questions, suggestions, feedback, comments, or just plain reactions? The comment section below is glad to take them.

Author: Enzo Froilan

Enzo is a marketing consultant by profession and a passionate e-learning blogger. He’s also a Microsoft Education Ambassador and an advocate for education, so his articles discuss e-learning not just from the insights of a student but also a from a teacher’s perspective, by leveraging his experience to deliver helpful posts.