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The Future of MOOCs


More than Twenty-five million users from around the globe were enrolled in the last few years in Massive Open Online Courses [MOOCs] through a number of platforms such as Edx, Coursera, and many more. The term MOOC is used to refer to distance learning programs that are offered mostly free of cost, and to a large number of participants through the web. Although most MOOCs are less structured, some are designed based on college courses and could qualify the learner for a certificate upon conclusion.

This disruptive technology em​erged in 2008, when Dave Cormier in the University of Prince Edward Island offered a course for 25 paying students and 2,300 non-paying ones.  The course was presented through multiple sites including blogs, Second Life, and Moodle. Following this instigation, in 2011, and for the first time, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT offered what is known as OpenCourseWare, with a large assortment of MOOCs.

While the idea of courses offered by Ivy League universities seem like a very attractive one, studies show that 96% of those who sign-up for a MOOC end up dropping out. The reality behind this large percentage is that when the cost barrier is taken out from the equation, users feel comfortable to window-shop and leave when they are not completely satisfied with the content.  And that I found revolutionary! But, even though the percentage seems very high, more than 2.1 million users have completed a Coursera course as of 2015, which is considered very significantly high.

But who are these MOOCers?

According to the Harvard Business review (2015), two types of MOOC users emerged when investigating course completers in Coursera. The first type highlighted their interest in professionally developing either to advance in their current positions, or to help them find one. People who are already highly skilled in their current position are more likely to advance their skills, which are specifically related to their current occupation; while those who seek employment are more likely to obtain new skills that will help them find a career, or transition to a new one. 

The second type of MOOC users expressed their interest in enrolling to such courses mainly for academic goal achievement. What is interesting in this type is the fact that some of the users are not enrolled in a traditional educational setting, and are considered members of disadvantaged communities. An example of that could be older dropouts, who intend to return to schools and use the courses as a tool to refresh their knowledge. Another example could be those who are socioeconomically low, and cannot spare the money nor the time to receive any form of traditional education. According to the data presented by Coursera, those disadvantaged users are more likely to report beneficial outcomes through the use of MOOCs.

Whilst MOOCs were initiated by higher education, they will clearly be taking over the corporate sector by allowing companies to design platforms that answer to their workforce training and development needs.  Like any other new technology, MOOCs are considered fairly new, which makes them a rich ground for educational research, design, and development.​​​