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The MOOC comes of age

The MOOC comes of age

In today’s world of just-in-time learning, where it’s perfectly possible to get a degree-level education without needing to spend tens of thousands on an actual degree, a lot of what we need to learn can be had for free. It can also be had when we need it, rather than forming part of a three or four-year program and being forgotten by the time we come round to needing to use it.

The traditional university format of lectures, seminars, tutorials and exams is hard-pushed to keep up with today’s demands because it is slow, and lacks the flexibility to give each student what they want, when they want it. Those wanting to know about a topic will just have to wait until it comes round on the curriculum, or study it independently while under pressure to learn whatever is on the curriculum at that time. It’s looking increasingly as if the only advantages of a full campus education are the social ones: going out with peers, knocking on dorm room doors to swap ideas and get help with coursework, being on a sports team or hanging out at the students’ union.

Actual course content can be had via many other routes. iTunes University, MIT and Harvard’s free lectures, Coursera, Khan Academy, Udemy, Udacity, and many others. Most of them use a delivery channel that has been around for a few years time now: MOOCs.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) offer unlimited participation via the web. They are undergoing a hype cycle, like many new ideas and technologies. Their peak of popularity so far was when Stanford University launched a MOOC on AI in 2011 and 160,000 people signed up to it within days. 2012 was declared the ‘Year of the MOOC’ by the New York Times. For-profits and not-for-profits sparred it out in 2012 and 2013 for the MOOC market, with MIT launching MITx – soon to be renamed Edx – out of concerns over the commercialisation of online education. Now the dust has settled and MOOCs are growing at a steadier rate. They are entering the hype cycle’s Plateau of Productivity.

One estimate by qz.com is that in the last six years 800 universities have created over 8,000 MOOCs. Not only does the site give that estimate, but it has compiled a categorised list of 600 such courses released in just the last 3 months. Many are free, or partially free, and some carry college credits. The age of the build-your-own degree is upon us.

It would be a crime not to share their list, so here it is.