They’re out there, with millions of people already in their thrall and more each day. Soon, it could be you (if the MOOC hasn’t got you already). But don’t start packing your loved ones into suitcases just yet. A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course, and by “course” I’m talking about the sort that you normally find kept behind the walls of colleges and universities. These are the ones that have broken free, and are seeping onto the Internet.
Last November, the New York Times described 2012 as “The Year of the MOOC“, with organizations like edX, Udacity and Coursera putting classes from MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Brown, CalTech, Johns Hopkins, and dozens of other universities all around the world up for grabs to anyone who might like to sit in. Education that had previously been sequestered behind rigorous entrance requirements, high tuitions and ivy-robed edifices is now available to anyone with a computer and Internet connection. And you thought Khan Academy was pretty cool.
(True story: a long-time friend fresh out of the Army began furthering his education through an online degree program. One of the classes in the program was a basic calculus course, for which he sought my assistance. I pointed him to Khan Academy, which he claims made up for the fact that his teacher wasn’t doing the teaching part of the job.)
It’s not just calculus that’s on the roster. Check Class Central or CourseBuffet for subjects and you’ll find things like jazz improvization, technology enterpreneurship, historical methodology, even philanthropy among the standards. Also, here’s a relatively recent list of MOOC providers to browse, some from other countries and in other languages.
Of course, this is something that intersects with the role of librarians and deserves some consideration. One problem is the question of certification and cost. Not all classes are free, and many that are will only provide certification of course completion if a fee is paid. Another issue is the digital literacy required to engage in such classes. It’s great for those already familiar with many of the technologies needed to participate, but learning such technologies is a course unto itself. Plus, there’s the concern of isolation and the student-teacher ratio. When you open a course up to an unlimited number of viewers online, how can any one teacher be expected to answer follow-up questions from a class of thousands? These are questions as yet unanswered for MOOCs as a whole, but are being addressed as the platform itself matures.
Do you think MOOCs have a place in our public libraries? If so, how can libraries as a whole integrate MOOCs into their services?