by Stephen Downes
"...while we may agree that these are weaknesses of the current model, the fact is that the advantages of MOOCs make it more desirable to press forward with the concept, rather than abandoning it and returning to traditional online and classroom-based courses and programs.
"The first advantage is accessibility. As the name 'Massive Open Online Course' suggests, MOOCs are available to everyone, requiring only an Internet connection (now 40 per cent of the world’s population, according to the International Telecommunications Union). Even if certification is not available, the fact that participants do not need to pay tuition makes them especially attractive to people outside the traditional university audience. As evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of people registering for courses like Stanford AI (artificial intelligence), there is significant demand for open access to higher education content.
"As important to accessibility is flexibility. People can, for the most part, pick their own time to study. Even if students miss the live online presentations, they can view the recorded archive. They can study the material at their own pace, and even if they fall behind, they can continue to access content, work through the examples and assignments, and continue to learn from the course.
"And this is what points to the most important element in the future of MOOCs. Today MOOCs are hosted by Coursera or Udacity are based at universities. But over time, they will develop their own presence and their own existence. Take, for example, the Stanford AI course, or the Introduction to Complexity course offered by Melanie Mitchell. While at the moment they are strongly associated with an individual university, over time on sites like Complexity Explorer they will forge their own identity, separating themselves from their university origin.
What will happen in such a scenario is that one course may be offered by several universities. There is no reason why the complexity course could not be shared by MIT, Stanford and the University of Calgary, with local services (such as tutorials, labs and social events) being provided by host institutions, while the content, community and activities are based in the online environment. In the past I have referred to this as the 'online-host provider framework'.
"When we view MOOCs as a means of obtaining an education, and establishing a track record, rather than as courses leading to credentials, our original hesitation about the perceived weaknesses of MOOCs can be overcome. The democratization of learning will lead to large and small online courses provided by a range or providers - from major universities to governments to oil companies - but it will be students themselves who decide whether to participate, and whether these courses are worth their time."