“Beyond the Four Walls of That Box of a Classroom.”
MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) are ushering in a new era or learning. Top universities have opted to go the route of offering high-quality free courses, each to a multitude of students at one time, hence the term “massively”. I have had the experience of taking a course with a MOOC and wished everyone could do so as well. It allowed me to take charge of my own learning and afforded me the ability to follow my progress and keep up-to-date with assignments. While it did not offer me a certificate or badges as reward for doing the work, I was learning about a topic I was interested in and that motivated me to press on.
With the diversity of MOOCs available, persons can learn almost anything and, can I reiterate, the courses are high-quality, at least the ones I have seen. The only thing missing is that for many of them, you do not receive certification although the credits are valid if you enroll in a paid program. With working persons not getting a chance to get time off work because of the demands and limited staff, MOOCs can offer a great alternative to study.
Another great thing about a MOOC is that there is a diversity of cultures that are a part of the program. Even non-English speaking students partake of the offerings and work around understanding the content and participating in the coursework. It allows you to be sympathetic to the needs of other students, to wish you fellow students well and to collaborate on different topics. After the course is over, you would have made at least one lifelong acquaintance as a result of the shared the learning experience. You never know how that will help in the future.
I believe that MOOCs are here to stay. What that will mean for the regular classroom? I am not sure. I would have thought some years ago that I could not function without being in a face-to-face learning environment. Having taken several online courses has allowed me to see otherwise especially when one can utilize a tool such a Skype. One of the benefits I have had working with persons online, especially group work, is that since everyone has a common goal, everyone is motivated to work. It was a beauty to see responses from the almost 30,000 students who enrolled in that course.
As an aside, there is still a lot of bureaucracy in Ministries of Education. Many still required hand written documents and the demands create a lot of redundancy for educators. They have to be performing data entry on the same information in several different places. Other inconsistencies waste valuable time and take away from the creativity that resides in teachers’ facilitation of student-centered learning. Many students still are not given the authority by administration for their own learning. This does not promote 21st century living. Ministries of Education as well as administrators who are not with the technological changes have to change or be phased out.
There is a place for the MOOC application in other areas. There can also be the exploration of online testing on a large scale. It is possible that instead of doing paper based exit examinations at certain levels, students are equipped to take computer-based examinations (MOOTs – Massively Open Online Tests?). It would save paper, time, and money among other things. Of course, investments have to first of all be made in the IT infrastructure of the institution. That is still a drawback for some schools in some regions. There is still not a seamless integration of technology into the classrooms. It is certain more persons would have hoped that as the new technology was stable on the market that they would just automatically find ways to adapt the technology into everyday life.
There is a difference to how children and adults learn using the technology that has to be taken into consideration. Somehow children given a portable device, for example, with a game, do not over think. They just play. The older we get, the more deliberate it seems that we have to process technology tasks before completing them. Those that teach have to deliberately yet mechanically learn how to use the technology. If they are not in the habit of thinking creatively, they still have difficulty finding ways to apply the technology to their everyday life. More interactive sessions need to be held with teachers to draw on the creativity that lies within them.
Already some schools are using MOOCs at lower levels and are testifying to the benefits. I do believe persons will still want to travel to school at times even if it for accountability and some of the benefits that an online program would not handle. Even George Jetson still travelled to work. He had better technological devices however. Maybe the day will come when students will not have to go to a physical site. They may be able to stay where it is convenient and Web access is possible and sign up with several MOOCs. Lifelong learning online would then be very meaningful especially since when persons want to learn a subject, they can always sign up for a course. Until then we may not see empty classroom just yet.
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