I have been experimenting with MOOC courses for some time and felt will share what I feel about them. For the uninitiated (and there may not be many left), MOOC or massive open online courses, are online distance courses meant for unlimited students, using a mix of reading materials, videos, exercises, assignments and characterized by student discussion forums with high interactivity.

I am on my third course now and my verdict is simple and short. MOOC’s are the future of education. In my opinion, they will completely disrupt the  eduation space in its current shape and format which if I were to generalize gets defined like this:

  • Physical structures where a teacher (being paid sub standard salaries) broadcasts to a classroom of 20-80 through a very rigidly defined course material,
  • this course in turn being part of a rigidly defined series necessary to be completed (over a period of 2-5 years) in order for the student to procure a degree from a any one of a set of designated colleges / universities,
  • characterized by prohibitively high costs and either brutally tough standards get in or extremely poor quality of education being imparted.

MOOCs, on the other hand, have allowed me to take up short courses 6-10 weeks, on subjects of my interest, from teachers from top universities in the US, completely free, without having to pass any examinations to qualify. The perks include being able to study with largely my own schedules, interact through discussion forums with a large body of other students taking the course and  learn largely through watching short videos, reading short recent articles (instead of thick dated textbooks). The experience has been absolutely outstanding.

If you haven’t tried your hand, try some of the following online platforms that have taken the lead in this space: Coursera, EdX, Udacity and even Udemy. And yes, before you start off, read reviews about the course you have in mind on coursetalk.org. You can read student reviews, checkout ratings, compare courses, besides search through almost all courses across all major platforms on various parameters like free / paid, subject, university, workload, schedules etc.

This blog however, is a quick late night note on the impact areas that MOOC will have on the current education system in the world and especially for my kids when they grow up.

If I were to say it in one line, it would go like this: MOOCs will create an education marketplace. A platform where teachers offer their courses for free / paid / blended to students in need. Location / language / qualification no bar. Read through for a list of major impact areas in my opinion. It would be obvious that my list is overwhelmingly in favour of the MOOCs vs the current education system. But, I think I would rather be bullish on this one!

Impact on students

  1. Improve discovery and accessibility to the best teachers and courses across the world.
  2. Remove location as a barrier.
  3. Immense choices in terms of
    • courses /
    • teachers /
    • universities /
    • teaching methodologies /
    • scheduling /
    • difficulty levels & workloads & depth /
    • price – value combinations – from free at one end to highly personalized premium pricing at the other.
  4. Allow students to take customer made courses – continuously modify the sequence of courses they take based on (moving) end objectives as well as developing interests.
  5. Improve the learning experience through focus on self discovery / peer interactions at a global scale / increased options/innovation in the space.

 

Impact on teachers

Teachers

  1. will start the era of billionaire teachers (1 million students * 25 USD per course * 4 courses per year * 10 years)! They will be rewarded appropriately (e.g highly personalized & high cost courses, mid priced courses administered to large mass of students, free courses made accessible to millions of students for teachers interested in philanthropy).
  2. will be discovered on a global scale (location is a much weaker constrained, number of students a teacher can teach can be theoretically infinite),
  3. will be recognized & compared (reviews and ratings by students and peers),
  4. will be successful even in the freelancer format, i.e without being necessarily associated / employees of major universities / schools.
  5. will now be organizations who will release their own MOOC courses / partner with educational institutions to sponsor subjects that fall within the domains of their business. These professionals will hence drive the agenda of current Recruitment and training manager of their organization: take up MOOC courses, tailor made to their organisation’s needs so that the batch of passing out students becomes a pool of talent to hire from such that there is minimal need to train them after hiring them. Who better to take courses on chips than say Intel / ARM? Who better to take courses on medicine than the hospitals themselves?
  6. will now be employed professionals who are currently restricted from doing more to teach by the constraints of schedules and locations. MOOC where teaching and learning becomes asynchronous and location independent will allow a far higher number of professionals to teach as a hobby / second career. If you can assemble teaching material, record videos, write case studies sitting at home on the weekend and upload into the cloud before you hit monday morning, will you not be inclined to take teaching your favourite subjects far more than before?

 

Impact on courses structuring/ traditional ‘degree’

  • Explosion in number of formats for each subject / domain. This will span the entire spectrum. For e.g
    • highly personalized and high cost formats with a very limited teacher / pupil ratio (not too unlike current formats but now even across physical locations)
    • mass market courses – high number of student enrollments / moderate fees but still significantly lower than for a similar quality physical classroom setup based course
  • Emergence of multiple freemium models. For e.g the basic course remains free but monetization could come in form of 
    • in classroom assessment,
    • certification,
    • personalized feedback to a student,
    • working with the teacher on a project,
    • more in depth content
  • The legacy ‘degree’ culture will be transformed: disembodied / modularised!
    • The era of studying for acquiring ‘degrees’ gets over. Every student picks and mixes courses designed to suit his or her objective based on what he wants to do once he is done with studying (e.g start a biz or get into a job).
    • Instead of studying to acquire a say, B.Tech / MBA / M.B.B.S in India or a MS / BS etc (in the US), student would by studying for any of the following illustrative degrees
      • Bachelor of ‘Head sales, petroleum industry’ (or maybe ‘head sales, Shell)
      • Masters in ‘Head operations, Retail industry’ (or maybe ‘head operations, Tesco)
      • Bachelor in ‘Head, equities, Investment Bank’ (or maybe ‘head, equities, Goldman Sachs)
      • Bachelor ‘Head, product innovation, Automotive OEM (or maybe ‘head, product innovation, General Motors)
    • Students will not not be locked into 2-5 year long courses with little flexibility to change once they have entered a degree course. So the courses chosen can be changed both as anyone of the following change; his end goals, interests, industry trends.

 

Future – Trends / Transformations

  1. The University as a institution will face significant headwinds / transformation. The governments / regulatory bodies will ofcourse have a significant say on how the new world education system takes shape. Still, the next decade will both be a big challenge as well an opportunity for university to transform to stay relevant. The new superstar universities of the 21st century may well be the existing IITs / IIMs / Ivy League colleges in their new avatar, may be completely new entities or even may be corporates setting up dedicated verticals to manage hiring through the MOOC route.   But sample some possibilities in a frictionless world?
    • Amazon / Microsoft / Google become the leading universities on anything to do with cloud. Similarly, Apple, Google & Microsoft become the go-to destinations for students wanting to make careers in mobile operating systems.
    • Similarly, you dont go to Harvard / Stanford etc for
      • payments (but instead take up courses authored by Mastercard / Paypal and Visa)
      • aerospace (but instead prefer Boeing / Airbus as your course instructors)
  2. Innovation in education methodologies will get a huge boost.
    • Best practices will get discovered & copied at the speed of light. The patent wars will become relevant in this industry too.
    • With availability of real time data (e.g candidate signups, dropouts, likes / comments for each module / excercise), experimentation will become easier, cheaper, quicker. Big data will start playing a huge role in education as well.
    • Technologies such as algorithm / engines to evaluate student output as opposed to manual assessment by the teaching staff will see rapid innovation. The same engines will begin to also mine data created through the massive interactions that happen in the discussion forums in these courses.
  3. Standardization /normalization of students will undergo a transformation. As the universities in their current form fail to transform and lose or innovate to stay relevant and become global superstars, new rules will emerge to compare a degree from one university to another, one course from a freelancer superstar to another from a corporate superstar.
  4. Emergence of ‘education marketplaces‘: Platforms which are one stop shop for everything you wanted to know and do about MOOC courses. Coursetalk.org as I mentioned earlier is one such that I am aware of. Over a period of time, you would be able to input an end goal (say a job that you want to get into or a business you want to start) and it would suggest you a series of courses to take. You would be able to review / compare those courses with other alternates, signup and pay, track your progress towards completion and get a consolidated certificate which would be valid in the real world.

 

 Future – Challenges

  1. Assessment of student output will face following challenges
    • How to make it fool proof? Issues of copying / impersonation etc? The technology to address most of these issues is largely already in place – continuous video monitoring / randomized iris scan / typing signatures / questions about you etc.
    • Assessment of qualitative output where assignments have no one right answer (e.g a biz strategy case,  qualitative subjects like arts etc) will become a challenge since
      • if you rely on peer assessment, the evaluation itself can become suspect / debatable. Also, cannot really be used where grades to students are relative.
      • if has to be done by the teaching staff itself, severely limits the number of students that can be taken on board per course.
  2. Not all courses / streams will take to the MOOC route with equal ease.
    1. Streams like sports / public welfare / music / drama etc will continue to require a lot of face-to-face interaction and only time will tell how much and what parts of such streams move online.
  3. In many countries, the fear of the new and the unknown will hold back innovation and transformation. Large universities which are slow to move, but have clout / vested interests / backed by large political or business groups will attempt to maintain status quo.

Having said all of the above, there is still a long way before MOOCs get there. Completion rates currently are very low, students still feel comfortable with in classroom formats, online assessment and evaluation still has a lot of holes, the universities are still warming up to MOOC, and finally treating them at par (giving credit) with in-classroom courses will still take a long time.

But again, in my opinion, the long term direction is very clear. MOOCs are the way of the future. And my bet is if your kids are going to enter into college a decade from now, they may very well be doing that sitting at home all the time!

+Amit Jain