MOOC’s, or massive online open courses, are transforming the college landscape. The proliferation of these online courses is a benefit to students across the country, but also has drawbacks within the realm of higher education. There are also changes within the market for online courses which will affect students, college faculty, and whole universities. Whether a student decides to make online learning a significant portion of their college experience, or if an adult wants to increase their academic background, having an awareness of the changes and considerations in this broad market will help an individual find the best quality options.
There are for-profit online universities and there are consortiums of non-profit universities that both offer college-level learning opportunities. Platforms like Coursera or edX work with universities to develop courses that are free and draw upon the academic integrity of some of the nation’s best universities. For profit colleges are more likely to offer degree or certificate programs to prepare students for workplace opportunities.
Harvard and MIT have been on the forefront of developing online courses that can be attended by hundreds or thousands of interested learners. At Harvard, there has been a long tradition of Continuing Education through the Harvard Extension School which is open to anyone interested in taking college courses with Harvard professors, albeit with more limited course offerings. The online extension to MOOC style courses offers students outside of the immediate proximity of Harvard to also benefit from this resource.
Some colleges , both in and out of the Ivy League, are determining to not join into the existent MOOC marketplace and instead limit their online offerings to natural extensions of their departments and faculty. Amherst College, for instance, has determined not to go along with the consortium that includes Harvard and instead to focus on developing courses from their own academic focuses and talents.
An underlying concern with this trend is how it can dilute the teaching staff at a college or university. It takes a significant amount of time to create and manage these courses for the faculty members, and so to the extent that it draws them away from classroom teaching and other campus activities, has become a part of the discussion at a more basic planning level. In terms of the quality of learning experiences, this is also a consideration that students should take into account when choosing their classroom-based courses.
Next generation learning will offer many opportunities for students in terms of personal and career advancement. Knowing what the personal learning goals are before seeking an online learning opportunity is the most important factor in finding the right opportunity as it will help guide the learner to the right institution.
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