What if every student had access to high-quality education? Would the world be a better place? Many supporters of Mass Open Online Classes believe that quality online education for the masses can break down financial barriers that limit some learners from accessing higher education.

How MOOCs are Changing Education

Some are calling MOOCs revolutionary. Supporters claim that by reaching tens of thousands of students worldwide, MOOCs will transform the educational system. While free online classes have been provided by top universities like Stanford and MIT for years, MOOCs are more comprehensive. The scale and the scope are bigger; the pace is more regimented; and the ventures are more imaginative.

Unlike the free online classes of yesteryear, MOOCs offer classes that are more interactive and more community driven. Before, independent students interested in taking free classes were offered no outlet for dialogue. These classes were little more than supplies of information, hyper-focused libraries supplemented with commentary from professors and students from the “real” course. In comparison, MOOCs are living organisms of interactive dialogue and peer-supported learning.

MOOC sites are cropping up across the Web, supported by millions of dollars in university and private funding. Last month, a dozen major research universities announced they would begin offering courses on the MOOC site Coursera, joining universities like Stanford and Princeton. Other major MOOC sites include edX and Udacity.

“Our goal is to reinvent education,” said Anant Agarwal, edX President. “It will dramatically improve the quality, efficiency and scale of learning worldwide and on our campuses.”

Students in 160 countries have participated and tens of thousands have gained knowledge that would have, without MOOCs, been restricted to the upper echelons of academics. The possibilities are predicted to spur a “tsunami” of changes.

Why MOOCs are Under Fire from Critics

In an article in The Guardian, Mike Boxall writes, “Many share the view … that MOOCs replicate the disruptive innovations that have reshaped the global information, media and news industries, by shifting market power from the established players to parvenu start-ups and alternative providers.”

Basically, there is some speculation that by teaching courses via MOOCs, there will eventually be little need for universities to include such courses in their curriculum. In some ways, this possibility could be praised for democratizing the system; but there is also a question as to whether universities will lose funding if students begin to opt for free classes instead of traditional universities.

It seems, however, that top universities around the U.S. are willing to spend millions of dollars to be a part of the MOOC revolution; and, perhaps, to control how the revolution develops. Reportedly, students of MOOCs are mostly older workers who are seeking to learn new skills in their professions, not recent high school graduates hoping to launch careers.

The more astute argument against MOOCs is that they do little to revolutionize education. Even with a larger scope, the courses are videos of traditional classroom lectures and lessons. In MOOCs, it is the platform, not the approach that is revolutionary, which seems a step back for those who are hoping to transform classrooms into more engaging and interactive environments.


Maria Rainier is a freelance blogger and writer for www.onlinedegrees.org. Maria believes that online degrees and online universities are the future of higher learning. She is interested in all things concerned with higher education and is particularly passionate about life after college. Please share your comments with her. 

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