The case for MOOCs – or Massive Open Online Courses – as it was laid out by Professor Richard C Levin, the keynote speaker at the NUS Giving Greater Good Series on “MOOCs and their impact on higher education,” was a strong one.
Professor Levin made such a compelling case that his audience listened with rapt attention, maybe even a little worried for the future of the many great higher education institutions such as NUS.
After all, just minutes ago, Professor Levin had been introduced as “the leading authority on the development of MOOCs,” by the President of Yale-NUS College, Professor Tan Tai Yong. Professor Levin is not only the former President of Yale University, but also the ex-CEO of Coursera, the world’s largest MOOC provider, which offers more than 2,000 courses by 149 university partners to 25 million users. He is now the Senior Advisor at Coursera.
One of the reasons for MOOCs’ success is the high retention rate of online learning. It allows for “disruption and an opportunity to, if you don’t understand it in the first five minutes, to go back and listen again.” Also, it allows the learner to adjust the speed in which the courses are delivered. Therefore, MOOC is “really good for mastering skills,” Professor Levin said.
To drive home his point, Professor Levin asked his audience pointedly: “How many of you had been in a Math course, as a young person, ended up lost in the first five minutes and then sat through a lecture not knowing what was going on for the rest of the hour?”
The next compelling argument for MOOC’s relevance to the world is its relative low cost. If a learner wants to take a test, get feedback from the faculty and a certificate from the university offering the course, he has to pay a fee, ranging from about USD$79 for a single course to a USD$49 per month subscription for a multi-course sequence. Compared to a university course, even a night university course, MOOCs are a bargain because they are making high-quality education available at a very low cost.
MOOCs are most popular amongst those between 22 and 45 years old. In particular, online learners are interested in and willing to pay for the multi-sequence course in job-related skills. Two-thirds of the learners are in this group. What this means is that the online learners are signalling that they are acquiring skills to help them in the workplace.
The scalability of MOOCs is another reason why they are making an impact on society. Tapping on technology, MOOCs can educate a large number of learners at any given time. More importantly, while 23% of users are from the United States, 45% come from developing countries where expensive and quality tertiary education is out of the majority’s reach.
Where, then, is MOOC deficient? In Professor Levin’s assessment: “Deep critical thinking skills. The kind of challenge you get in a seminar class where you make an argument, are forced to defend it, have classmates and professors who challenge your arguments. That kind of really intense scrutiny of one’s arguments, the ability to perfect your critical thought, the ability to engage in dialogue is not really pushed.
“We haven’t yet discovered a way to do that in scale.”
Herein lies the hallowed turf and continued relevance of the brick-and-mortar university.
The NUS Greater Good Series features talks by leading minds on topics related to philanthropy. These include generosity, giving and service to the community, as well as leadership, personal well-being and mental resilience. The Series aims to raise awareness of philanthropy and its impact on society. The Series was made possible thanks to a generous gift from Newsman Realty Pte Ltd.
For further information on the NUS Greater Good Series, contact the Events team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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