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What Do Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) Mean for Education?

By Justin Stoltzfus | Reviewed by Kuntal ChakrabortyCheckmark
Published: December 22, 2022
Key Takeaways

MOOCs are the next stage in the education revolution. they are likely to become a staple of higher education; respected in their own right.

Source: Unsplash

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A decade ago, the concept of remote learning was still fairly new.

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Now, of course, we have a robust environment of remote learning and even remote work, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, let's take another look back at Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and see how they're doing in 2022.

What is a MOOC?

First of all, the idea behind a MOOC is that an unlimited numbers of students can join remotely. Many of these courses are also free, as opposed to the kinds of for-profit pay-per-course education offered conventionally by universities.

These two aspects change the ballgame somewhat when it comes to taking a course. Not everybody values this kind of free, remote education like they do conventional college courses, but a look into the use of MOOCs today shows us that many institutions are enthusiastic about the future of the MOOC in tomorrow’s digital environment.

MOOC Structure

Generally speaking, MOOCs follow the same structure as university courses. They are usually broken down into units or modules and follow a set syllabus. There are often lectures, assigned readings, problems, interactive exercises, projects and tests.

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The frequency of each element depends on the course, as does the amount of material and pace. An online course may have group projects, but a certificate course may be more self-driven and only feature intermittent quizzes.

The IEEE and the LWMOOC

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) operates an annual conference called LWMOOC dedicated to examining what MOOCs can do for education and society in general.

For those not familiar, the IEEE is the largest tech group of its kind, but it’s interesting that this organization is further involved with MOOCs than, say, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), given that the Internet is the home of MOOCs.

The reality, though, is that the work of the IEEE and the IETF often merge together and, in any case, the IEEE’s resources on LWMOOC show that the convention is a collaborative effort.

There is a list of open topics posted on the IEEE’s site. With the LWMOOC now entering its eighth year, one of the most interesting topics that will be covered involves the role of MOOCs in shaping the “fourth Industrial Revolution;” an intriguing term used to talk about things like Moore’s law and neural networks.

Let's break this down a little bit, as it's a pretty obscure term for most people.

If the first Industrial Revolution was based on steam power and water power, and the second Industrial Revolution was based on railroads and telegraph lines, the third Industrial Revolution was the digital revolution happening late in the 20th century.

According to that timeline, the fourth industrial revolution is happening right now and deals with automation, cyber-physical systems and trends, like cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence. (Also Read: Predictive Maintenance: Ensuring Business Continuity with AI)

The IEEE and other stakeholders suggest that the MOOC is going to be a part of that transformation, which means that it will have an active role in education when our children are grown.

Types of MOOCs

MOOCs cover a wide range of topics. Basically, anything you could want to learn about from languages to geospatial learning and GIS systems has MOOCs. Many MOOCs focus on hot new technology and contemporary issues. Another big application of MOOCs has to do with the new technological frontier of artificial intelligence.

While taking individual MOOC courses are most often free, gaining degrees and credentials through them usually comes at a price. Here are five outcomes MOOCs can provide and how much they typically cost:

Corporate Programs

MOOCs for enterprise-based situations and learning initiatives usually have a pay-per-course setup. They don’t usually offer certificates.

Certificates

Certificates for individual courses tend to cost between $50 and $100, but can range as far as $20 to $300.

Micro Credentials

A micro credential is a program of around three to six courses that focuses on a particular topic or skill. The average price falls just under $1000.

University Credits

University accredited courses are comparable to online courses from higher education institutes. They count towards some university degrees and can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to a few thousand.

Online Degrees

Online degree programs are similar to university credit MOOCs, but equate more to master’s programs and continuing education degrees. They have a similar workload, structure and administration process. Online degree programs are costly, ranging from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.

MOOCs and AI

The MOOC intersects with AI in two ways -- first of all, there are MOOCs that focus on AI design and related skills. You could also say, however, that some MOOCs represent characteristics of artificial intelligence in administrating these digital education plans!

“In the educational context, teachers and trainers are the domain experts who have pedagogical action knowledge that is needed for the development of pedagogically meaningful AI-based school applications,” writes Graham Attwell, Sophia Roppertz and Ludger Dietmer in their paper "MOOCs and Artificial Intelligence – Potentials for the Professional Development of VET Teachers and Trainers," dated 2021, “Furthermore, if AI-based applications such as learning management systems and personalized learning paths are used in educational institutions, teachers who are familiar with the systems and the opportunities and risks are also needed.”

The group refers to a “European digital education action plan” for 2021 to 2027 that may help to direct this kind of work. These types of forays reflect the potential for MOOCs to aid in ushering in the next AI age.

MOOC Popularity

While traditional university education is still highly valued in today's business world, MOOCs have their own niche. In many cases, learners are using MOOCs to develop practical skills and experience that will allow them to enter high-demand fields like data science. (Also Read: Online Learning: 10 Essential Computer Science Courses)

Take some of the biggest names, like Coursera and Udemy. People using these platforms are often looking for technically intensive MOOCs that will open doors for them as coders, data engineers, application architects, data stewards or one of any number of roles related to that fourth Industrial Revolution.

Advantages

  • Affordable.
  • Wider access to higher education.
  • Not location or travel dependent.
  • Flexible scheduling.
  • Comparable degrees and certificates.
  • Personal, education and business opportunities.

Disadvantages

  • Less direction and structure.
  • Harder to find the correct or desired courses needed for degrees.
  • Less accommodation for visual or auditory disabilities.
  • Less direct access and one-on-one time with instructors.
  • Little to no chance for socialization.
  • Digital literacy and reliable hardware and internet may limit some users.
  • Not all institutions and businesses accept MOOC credits, degrees or certificates.

Conclusion

In 2022, we are all getting ready to take the next leap into a world with technologies like the metaverse -- virtual meeting places -- and a decentralized web where we will do even more of our business and spend even more of our time. With that context in mind, the popularity of MOOCs makes a whole lot of sense.

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Written by Justin Stoltzfus | Contributor, Reviewer

Profile Picture of Justin Stoltzfus

Justin Stoltzfus is a freelance writer for various Web and print publications. His work has appeared in online magazines including Preservation Online, a project of the National Historic Trust, and many other venues.

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