MOOCs (massive open online courses) are one of the hottest topics in higher education.  (Image source: Thinkstock)

MOOCs (massive open online courses) are one of the hottest topics in higher education. (Image source: Thinkstock)

One of the hottest topics in higher education is the development of massive open online courses, otherwise known as MOOCs.  Although free web instruction has been available in the past, the credit for pioneering free university-level courses belongs to Stanford University.  Based on the success of three courses launched by Stanford in 2011 (over 100,000 people signed up!), several companies such as  Coursera®, Udacity® and edX® have formed to coordinate global MOOC offerings.

Over 100 universities in the US, Europe and Asia are now offering MOOCs. As of early 2013, over 1.5 million students have signed up for MOOC courses.

The courses are offered free of charge and some include college credit, though the majority of courses just offer a certificate of completion.  The topics are diverse and cover areas from the humanities to music to science

As part of a master’s course, I recently  participated in two Coursera courses, specifically “ Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations” (based on the Innovation Strategy class at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University) led by David A. Owens, Professor of the Practice of Management and Innovation at Vanderbilt’s Graduate School of Management, and Case Western University’s “ Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence” led by Richard E. Boyatzis, Distinguished University Professor, and Professor in the Departments of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve University and Human Resources at ESADE. Both professors are renowned in their respective topic areas. The courses were given over eight weeks and were of very high quality. I was expected to do the weekly readings and video assignments, participate in a discussion group and submit a series of essays. Fellow students provided providing feedback on each other’s essays.  Although there were deadlines for assignments, I was allowed to complete the reading assignments at my own pace.

There has been criticism of MOOCs for poor pedagogy. The professors do not interact with the students and there is no real feedback except through fellow students. The tests were designed to assess reading comprehension rather than deep understanding. Only 10% of students finish the courses with all the assignments completed (though that still numbers over 10,000 students in each course). There is also suspicion concerning the motivation of universities in offering instruction at no cost. Nevertheless, MOOCS are a new learning modality . They create an exceptional opportunity for lifelong learning many topics.

Here are a few of the coursera.org courses (of the hundreds) that one might consider taking and the start dates: Aug 5th- Instructional Methods in Health Professions Education (University of Michigan) Aug 26th- Disaster Preparedness (University of Pittsburgh) Sept 2nd-An Introduction to Global Health (University of Copenhagen) Sept 16th- Data Management for Clinical Research (Vanderbilt University) Nov 4th- E -learning and Digital Cultures (University of Edinburgh)