MOOC’s – A Part-Solution to the High Cost of SA’s Higher Education?

2017-01-05 12:20

I’ve recently read about “MOOC’s” and I believe that these have the potential to be able to solve a major part of the #feesmustfall problem!

What are MOOC’s, you are likely asking?

MOOC stands for “Massive Open Online Course”, and MOOC’s are courses that an unlimited number of students can enrol/study for – all the students need is internet access!!

There’s already evidence of MOOC’s revolutionising the way in which tertiary education is being provided around the World.

I’ve read that by the end of 2015, there were some 35 million students, worldwide, who had each signed up for at least one MOOC!

MOOC’s initially sound pretty much like the correspondence-type courses that institutions, such as UNISA, have been providing for many years – and that these are!

However, with the advent of the internet one can now provide better material/facilities for correspondence-style courses eg online video lectures, online multiple-choice testing, online discussion forums on which lecturers and fellow-students can assist students who have questions/queries/problems regarding the relevant course content - and because it’s all being conducted online, the responses should be prompt!

I’ve done some basic research on MOOC’s and it appears that the first MOOC was provided by a Canadian university back in 2008 – the course was provided to 25 fee-paying students and to 2 200 online students (the online students were able to access the course for free!).

Like all new developments there was an initial manic surge of enthusiasm for the concept, but this tapered off a lot and has now recovered to more realistic levels.

That enthusiasm for MOOC’s still exists is because, whilst MOOC’s aren’t perfect, these go a long way towards providing low-cost/affordable tertiary education to potentially many millions of poor/disadvantaged people, worldwide.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of non-profit organisations were the initial providers of MOOC’s, but prominent universities, like Stanford University, Harvard University, Peking University, Oxford University and Paris’ Sorbonne University, have taken their cue from these organisations and are now participating in MOOC’s through online providers.

Some of these MOOC’s are being provided for free and some require registration and fees to be paid.

MOOC’s, by their very nature, require the use of new technology – IT specialists, videographers etc need to be employed – but because of the “economies of scale”, when courses are popular/widely disseminated, these additional costs would be relatively small.

I’ve also read that the completion rate of MOOC’s is low (apparently, something like 10%) – as, I would imagine, is the case with existing correspondence (UNISA-type) courses.

Some students will drop out of a MOOC because their enthusiasm for the course wanes and some will take the course merely to educate themselves with no intention of ever writing the exams at the course’s conclusion.

Being a new development, MOOC’s are obviously controversial and have both supporters AND detractors.

I would say that criticism that MOOC’s can’t be as good as conventional courses/lectures etc is valid, and the completion rate of MOOC’s is certainly likely to be lower than conventional courses/lectures – much like it is likely to be low with current correspondence (UNISA-style) courses.

However, there is one major benefit, especially for developing countries, and that is the COST associated with providing MOOC’s to large numbers of students.

Whilst being a low-cost option, MOOC’s should, in my opinion, be provided at a cost to the student – a low cost, but a cost nevertheless!

I’m sure that students have a lot less guilt when they drop out of a course that they’re “attending” for free, than to drop out of a course that they/their parents have paid/borrowed money to “attend”!

I believe that our Department of Higher Education should investigate MOOC’s as a matter of urgency – MOOC’s certainly have the potential to diffuse the current crisis that exists between the State/universities and the #feesmustfall campaigners.

My final word on the subject: If students are sufficiently motivated to complete the course/graduate, they can surely overcome the limited disadvantages of online learning done through MOOC’s!

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