Online university courses: godsend or gimmick?

When American universities began offering MOOCs – free online courses, open to all – people signed up in their droves. From lessons on artificial intelligence to classes on vegetarianism, millions of people across the world began learning, The Guardian reports.

As the New York Times declared 2012 the year of the MOOC, the Open University announced a partnership with 11 (now 29) British universities.

But fast-forward one year and doubts about the courses are lingering.

In Britain only 8% of people surveyed had even heard of MOOCs, according to a Guardian and Open University study.

While a quarter of people reported feeling under pressure to get additional skills and qualifications, almost half said they would only do an online course if they received an accredited certificate at the end.

Some 64% said they did not believe course mates should be responsible for marking their work, one of the key ways MOOCs are assessed. And it’s not just learners who have reservations about the phenomenon, many academics have raised concerns about high drop-out rates and the quality of teaching offered.

Has the glossy tech development lost its sheen? Are MOOCs over before they even began for Brits?

To explore these questions, the Guardian is launching Extreme Learning, a special series run in association with the Open University, which will examine how online learning is evolving – and what this means for students, lecturers and universities.

It still remains to be seen if MOOCs are a passing fad, a threat to traditional education structures, or if they’re exactly the innovation our embattled universities need.

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