The Rise of the Planet of the MOOCs


By Quintus Potgieter

It has the power to revolutionize and transform the world. It could change the way education progresses over the next century. It, of course, is the Internet. An invaluable tool that has forever changed education as we know it. On some platforms, the Internet is used to supply higher education for free, around the world. Information has never been more accessible than it is today. It has given prospective students the ability to take part in online education and training through Massive Open Online Courses - or MOOCs.  All you need is a computer.

Robert A. Rhoads, a professor and author at the University of California, Los Angeles’s Graduate School of Education and Information studies penned a book named MOOCs, High Technology & Higher Learning. He points to a report conducted by edSurge that stated that 1,200 MOOCs were available globally from 2011 to 2013. By 2013, two new MOOCs were created every day. However, Rhoads says that the MOOCs did not reach the heights they should have, even with impressive statistics like those. Some experts believe that after eight years of growth, 2016, and the years to follow, will be very important for MOOCs. Why did MOOCs fare so badly in the early years?

EDUCASE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of higher education through Information Technology, explained why certain kinds of MOOCs were, and still are, problematic: “MOOCs are online courses where lectures are typically ‘canned’, quizzes and testing are automated, and student participation is voluntary. They attain large scale by reducing instructor contact with individual students; students often rely on self-organized study and discussion groups.”

However, that approach is not necessarily the best one when it comes to online higher education training. There are different kinds of MOOCs. The xMOOC and the cMOOC. The former is the traditional MOOC we have grown accustomed to; the one where self-learning and automation are prioritized. Whereas, the latter, is a community focused and shared practices approach. cMOOCs are more interactive and engaging than the regular type of MOOC. Experts do, however, say that the line between the two is becoming blurred, which will, in the long run, benefit online education. A more engaging and interactive approach to online training is the way to go, most experts agree. “MOOCs are the latest step in the development of the disruptive online learning technology continuum,” says Sarah Porter, the author of To MOOC or Not to MOOC.

In spite of that, building a platform that allows thousands of students to enrol for a certain course sometimes means that an interactive session with a course advisor is almost impossible and that is where MOOCs have fallen short. But some institutions take out the ‘massive’ and ‘open’ parts of a MOOC and host online, interactive, engaging courses that students can get their qualifications through. A qualification earned online is slowly but surely becoming more acceptable in today’s world, where the Internet is becoming a human right. Shouldn’t education, across the board, be a human right too? Now, you could even earn your Bachelor of Science degree in engineering, online*.

The recognition of MOOCs as an academic achievement tantamount to a higher education degree, could also quash protests pertaining to university fee increases around the world. However, the implementation of this has been largely unsuccessful. Nonetheless, as the fight for net neutrality and the Internet as a public utility continues, MOOCs will grow in stature and importance to job recruiters. 

In South Africa, university students recently engaged in a protest against the hiking of university admission fees, which quickly turned into an argument for free tertiary education. As a result, the University of Witwatersrand listed three MOOCs that students who could not afford university fees - or even students currently in university - could enroll for. The three they launched were: Research Methods: An Engineering Approach; Results-Based Project Management: Monitoring and Evaluation and System Dynamics for Health Sciences. The MOOCs were set to be listed on the edX platform. The University will be the first in Africa to offer MOOCs along with the edX program. The University of New South Wales Australia also launched their own engineering-inspired MOOC named: Through Engineers’ Eyes: Engineering Mechanics by Experiment Analysis and Design.

“Although the systems that are used in MOOCs may not be particularly new or advances from a technical perspective - at least at this stage in their development - the scale at which they are being used, with class sizes typically in the thousands, and the large numbers of institutions that are investing significant resources and reputation, mean that they are having a marked impact on how we think about higher education,” said Porter.

So should you wait until MOOCs become fully acceptable as a higher education method? Some might say they have already achieved that. However, EIT’s Dean of Engineering, Steve Mackay, says "that MOOCs, in their current state, present a unique opportunity for engineers to if anything, broaden their skillset. Certainly, if you talk to recruiters today, they will say, ‘If you’re looking for an engineering job, you do need some IT skills’.”

Steve says “that in the current engineering workplaces, IT skills are something that can benefit you greatly. In fact, you can get some really remarkably low cost or free courses - MOOCs - from various sites. Perhaps you can learn more about java programming, javascript, constructing a website, etcetera. These courses are really good. The only trick is, you need to be intrinsically motivated to finish the course, that is the hard bit.”

* - EIT now offers four Bachelor of Science (BSc) degrees through online means; follow this link for more information on our BSc degrees.

Works Cited
Porter, Sarah. To MOOC or Not to MOOC: How Can Online Learning Help to Build the Future of Higher Education? Waltham, MA: Chandos/Elsevier, 2015. Print.
Rhoads, Robert A. MOOCs, High Technology, & Higher Learning. Print.