MOOCs are shining a light on online education

Nothing has shone a brighter light on online education than MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Massive or not, this form of online education has its backers and critiques, and no matter what position one takes, MOOC-mania is one of the big game changers in online education and distance education.

Dr Som Naidu of Monash University, Australia declared this when speaking on ‘Emerging themes and big game changers in contemporary distance education’ to about 25 staff members of Wawasan Open University. His talk, under the WOU Seminar Forum, was held at the main campus today. Attendees included Board of Governors Chairman Tan Sri Emeritus Prof Gajaraj Dhanarajan, Vice Chancellor Prof Dato’ Dr Ho Sinn Chye, and Deputy Vice Chancellor Prof Mohandas Menon.

The other big game changers in distance education, he said, are “Open Educational Resources (OERs), OER University (open and online), Cloud-based Learning, and Open Badging (Micro-Credentialing)”. He also talked a bit about four emerging themes in distance education, namely Open Educational Practices, Ubiquitous Computing (cloud-based and mobile learning and teaching), Education for All, and Educating for the Professions (work-integrated and workplace-based learning).

Dr Naidu sharing his views with WOU staff.

Dr Naidu sharing his views with WOU staff.

In his talk, Dr Naidu shared some staggering figures on the current status with MOOCs and online education, extracted from a January 2013 survey report that was based on 10 years of tracking online education in the United States.

Results of this survey reveal that, while the number of institutions with a MOOC has doubled in the past year, only a very small segment (2.6%) of higher education institutions currently have a MOOC, a slightly larger percentage (9.4%) report MOOCs are in the planning stages for them, while most institutions remain undecided and under one-third say they have no plans for a MOOC.

Yet, proponents of MOOCs keep pedalling fallacious arguments suggesting that MOOCs by their very nature are “fun, hip, free, courses which offer access to education for all, and which enable students to teach themselves”, he added.

Absorbing the latest information on MOOCs.

Absorbing the latest information on MOOCs.

Dr Naidu said that many current academic leaders remain unconvinced that MOOCs represent a sustainable method for offering online courses and many have concerns that credentials for MOOC completion will cause confusion about higher education degrees. However many do believe that MOOCs provide an important means for institutions to learn about online pedagogy and they can be used to attract more students to their mainstream courses and programmes.

He conceded that MOOCs are transforming higher education, remarking that “no matter what we say about the current form of MOOCs, people agree it’s a game changer and that it’s strategic to get on board”. He felt that as proponents of MOOCs, who are very clever and astute educators and business people, become familiar with online education and distance education, better versions of MOOCs will emerge and change the way we look at distance education today.

Dr Naidu argued that though MOOCs provide open access to learning and open scholarship, students will still need the guidance of good teachers for locating and evaluating learning resources, understanding and applying these resources to real life challenges, and learning how to study online.