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Attitudes toward MOOCs changing across academia


Friday, March 29, 2013

Online education has made college more accessible to countless individuals. While many colleges and universities offer some courses or even entire programs online, allowing students to learn anytime, anywhere, one of the biggest advancements in Web-based learning has been the introduction of massive open online courses (MOOCs). These open learning platforms enable anyone with an Internet connection to study a range of subjects online, from artificial intelligence to social media marketing, all for free. According to a recent survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, MOOCs could soon become an invaluable tool in making college more affordable and accessible.

Gaining momentum
The news source recently attempted to survey every professor in the U.S. who has taught a MOOC. Of the 184 professors polled, 104 responded. Key findings of the study revealed that although many academic leaders are still uncertain of the role MOOCs will play in mainstream higher education, many participants saw the value in such initiatives.

Almost 80 percent of professors polled indicated that they believe MOOCs are "worth the hype," suggesting that overall attitudes toward large-scale online education platforms are changing. One such professor is Robert Sedgewick of Princeton University. Prior to teaching a MOOC, Sedgewick was skeptical about the potential of this learning paradigm. However, after his first MOOC on computer algorithms attracted more than 80,000 students, he began to reassess his position. Sedgewick told the news source he was "very enthusiastic" about MOOCs, and that he believed "every person's education will have a significant online component" in the near future.

Complex challenges
Although MOOCs are clearly gaining ground across academia, there are still hurdles to overcome before they become an integral part of higher education. According to Inside Higher Ed, the high dropout rate of students who enroll in MOOCs is of particular concern to some researchers.

The news source reports that approximately 90 percent of students who sign up for a MOOC drop out before the completion of their studies. While this figure may seem high, researchers claim the complex nature of why people enroll in MOOCs means traditional methods of analysis may be "largely missing the point." The fact that MOOCs are often free, rarely award college credits and have no clearly defined prerequisites could all be reasons for the high dropout rate, according to the news source. However, it may be that many MOOC students never intended to take the final exam or procure a certificate, but may have enrolled as a way to supplement their current college courses. According to Yvonne Belanger, the head of assessment and planning for the Center for Instructional Technology at Duke University, many users may simply be looking for "a social experience that is intellectually stimulating."

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