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MOOCs: What are they and what can they do?

Andrew Rahm
Azusa Pacific University

MOOCs today are like the Smartphones of education: hundreds upon hundreds of
courses are available at our fingertips and mostly are free.

Coursera provides universal access to the worlds best education, partnering with
top universities and organizations to offer courses for anyone to take, for free.
(Coursera website) This is Courseras tag line and its a pretty strong and profound one.
Coursera is one of the main companies providing MOOCs : Massive Open Online
Course. Imagine seeing a short news story on coding and how it might be one of the
most in demand professions in coming years, with a MOOC you can take classes to learn
coding and understand exactly what they do. Want to learn more about Finance? Theres
a MOOC for that, what about your favorite band, The Beatles? There is even a MOOC
about the history of the Beatles! I actually took that class and will share more about that
shortly, but simply put MOOCs today are like the Smartphones of education: hundreds
upon hundreds of courses are available at our fingertips and mostly are free.
Who are participating in these MOOCs though? Roughly 80% of MOOC
students are working professionals who already have some type of degree from associates
to PhD and roughly 3 million people are participating in over 300 courses from all over
the world with over 50% of those people being from the USA or Asia. (Selingo, 2014)
So one has to wonder, who are MOOCs designed for and are they meeting their target
market? The brilliance of an MOOC is it can be essentially for anyone because of the
availability and self-paced structure of learning, but as it will discussed in the next
section, there has to be some motivation to take on a MOOC besides just the knowledge
itself, there has to be some value added for the time spent on an MOOC.
There is debate today on the actual impact and importance of MOOCs. When
they first started hitting the internet in 2011, many thought they would be revolutionary
and change the entire education paradigm. (Selingo, 2014) But the main problem

MOOCs had when they launched and still have today is they are not replacing any form
of education, just adding another resource. Many MOOCs can not replace the college
credit and degree students are getting upon graduating from colleges across the US.
(Carey, 2015) But there is hope for MOOCs because such projects as Mozilla
Foundations Open Badges and the MOOC offering company Coursera have found a
way to give value the courses being taken and the knowledge gained. The Open badges
project gives electronic proof of the course completion and knowledge achieved, while
Coursera has MOOCs you can take that offer certificates for a fee. So now there are
opportunities for the MOOCs to not only enhance ones knowledge of a topic or two but
now there is career or professional value to completing these MOOCs.
There is another adverse effect of MOOCs: Many students fail. A MOOC
experiment at San Jose State University showed that in one of the MOOCs only 25% of
students passed and in another only 50% passed and compared to the on campus
equivalent class, these pass ratings were much lower. In another example of failing
MOOCs, a professor at Stanford University, Sebastian Thrun, noticed that in his
massively popular MOOC (over 160,000 students signed up) he students who were
performing well and passing were similar to him as a college student: extremely selfmotivated and intelligent. (Selingo, 2014) These two examples show the main reason
why MOOCs might be popular to start but difficult to finish: motivation. If the enrolled
student in a MOOC has little motivation to complete the MOOC and do well in it, then
there is higher probability of failure and non-competition. That is again why the idea of
value added to a MOOC is so vital, professional advancement or college degree
completion are very motivating to complete a MOOC. The more this is intertwined in

MOOCs the higher the passing and completion rate there will be.
One of the greatest opportunities MOOCs have created is the idea of open source
education. Countries such as France, China and Saudi Arabia have begun using the open
source MOOC structure called edX to develop entire education platforms for their
countries. This is in amazing change and advancement in education. The Ministry of
Labor in Saudi Arabia wants to use edX to educate more women, disabled citizens and
people living in rural areas. (Lapowsky, 2014) Supplying education to those who can
not access it otherwise or who are oppressed and marginalized in their communities could
have a major, lasting impact on the world and something that is very exciting. I can think
of my time in South Africa 5 years ago and working with families and communities who
struggle to just provide a daily meal for their familes. One large struggle these families
had was getting their children into public education because of improper or missing
paperwork. The government in South Africa requires an birth certificate for children to
enter school and many of the families we worked with could not produce a birth
certificate or could not afford to replicate one. If MOOCs were provided by the
government of South Africa to all willing and able students, this could get knowledge and
education to these children that otherwise migiht never have the opportunity
I took a class on the music of the Beatles and it was a very interesting and
entertaining class. The professor, John Covach, was from the University of Rochester
and seemed very calm and low key. This helped because of the style of the course and
how it was broken down into short videos that discussed different themes from how the
band was formed, their early days and the style of playing they developed and evolved
into. I also really liked the use of the a green screen in that the professor was front and

center for each video but about of the screen was dedicated to what he was talking
about in a PowerPoint style display. It was very much like you were in the classroom
with Professor Covach as he presented the information on a projector screen as he
conducted his lectures.
I did find it difficult being motivated to take the course, even though it was highly
entertaining! I tried watching 1-2 videos a day of the lecture to stay involved in the
MOOC and work through it but found myself many days not completing the videos and
feeling like I was falling behind. I can completely see how a large percentage of enrolled
students in MOOCs tend to fail or not complete. I ended up finishing only 1 of the 6
units for the course but I plan on staying enrolled in the class to hopefully finish it up in
August. Lastly, I found it interesting how they verify who you are for each quiz. You
first type a sentence twice and that is how it verifies your typing pattern and then you are
verified by a photo. I liked this 2 step verification because it shows the validity of the
course offering and the importance of academic integrity MOOCs still have even though
they are online and mostly free.
I had never heard of MOOCs before this course and taking the music of the
Beatles MOOC, but they are definitely on my radar and something that I can see of great
importance to both my professional life and also personal life. The vast diversity of
topics make MOOCs something that will be a mainstay on education and I believe is just
the beginning of a education transformation from classroom to living room. I still believe
classrooms will be the primary source of education, but MOOCs can be valuable
resource for educators to use to assistance and advance their students knowledge. I
imagine MOOCs evolving into a blend of academia and professional development in

which courses can be as detailed and specific as one wants it to be and can really
personalize learning in a whole new and exciting way!

MOOCs: What are they and what can they do?
Carey, K. (2015, March 5). Here's What Will Truly Change Higher Education: Online
Degrees That Are Seen as Official - The New York Times. Retrieved from
Lapowsky, I. (2014, September 26). Why Free Online Classes Are Still the Future of
Education | WIRED. Retrieved from
Selingo, J. (2014, October 29). Demystifying the MOOC - The New York Times.
Retrieved from