MOOCs and their discontents

Coded into the DNA of MOOCs (the unwieldy acronym for Massive Open Online Courses) is a profound sense of social, educational, and economic justice. MOOCs are courses from the world’s premier institutions of higher learning offered on a variety of platforms, the most notable of which are Coursera, edX, and Udacity.

They aim to bring the knowledge and expertise housed in the most selective public and private universities and deliver them to anybody around the world who has little more than a computer or tablet and a working internet connection, Aljazeera reports.

They are inherently egalitarian; the fundamental principle that guides them is to universalise the availability of knowledge and human understanding from the widest possible variety of academic fields. Anant Agarwal, the president of edX, said in a recent interview, “Education is our cause. It’s really important that people around the world have access to a great education, much like the air we breathe.”

The audiences of MOOCs vary, and so, many learners may have neither the intention nor the desire to finish the course as prescribed (that is, by completing all of the given assignments and examinations) and are simply taking the course for their own intellectual edification. For a MOOC open to a general audience, at this stage in time, success is a very different creature than what it is for a conventional university class.

She criticises MOOCs for their impersonal nature, without acknowledging the highly impersonal nature of in-person lectures, where getting the professor’s attention requires disrupting, much to the chagrin of other students, the instructor’s presentation that has the year-on-year fidelity of a videotape anyway.

Many MOOCs do indeed allow students to ask questions, and those queries are then voted upon by the community of students.

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