It seems that the promise of distant learning has never truly been realised. When the internet first came about there were experts from many educational realms who were quick to jump in with predications of a world revolutionised, where children from third world countries could potentially receive the same quality of education as those within the first world, and where traditional schooling was transformed. Yet such changes have been relatively slow to come about, and have been on far less a scale than many envisaged.
Today however it appears that the tides may well and truly be turning and here we look at the main driver of this change, and what it means for the world of education.
For those who don’t know a Massive Open Online Course is a free distance learning program that is accessible online; they are designed to be suitable for huge numbers of students who may hail from all over the world.
MOOCs provide for a world of advantages - this is learning on grand scales, learning that brings people from all over the world together - a solution that spans languages, countries and cultures.
One defining difference between MOOCs and traditional e-learning is that the courses are designed to be suited to every member of a mass audience – inclusive and as suited to a person within the same country, as those who may be around the other side of the world.
They are open and accessible, and recent research has found that 70% of surveyed MOOC institutions believe that there should be fee free (EADTU 2015).
Today there are a number of specialist providers of MOOCs, including Udacity, edX and Coursera. Yet until 2012 there was only limited uptake of MOOCs; since then however Europe has experienced adoption on staggering scales, growing from 1 in 2012 to 432 as of 2014 (OpenEducationEuropa); and from 2014 onwards the number of European institutions providing MOOCs has only continued to rise.
Within Britain, there have been similarly significant rises; the two UK universities offering such courses as of 2013 rose by 11 in the course of just 12 months. This specific pattern of adoption can be explained by the then up-and-coming MOOC platform of Future learn, who marketed hard to gain university partnerships.
What’s more 2016 has brought about a freshly launched, tech focussed MOOCs platform – OpenClassrooms - designed to fill the ever growing IT skills gap shortage. The promise of MOOCs then goes beyond providing less advantaged countries with invaluable learning experiences, to providing countries with the essential skills that they need to compete.
The US has long since dominated the MOOCs market, offering both the most expansive amount of courses, as well as involving the largest number of educational institutions.
However the US, as compared to the rest of the educational world, has experienced a relative slowing in the adoption of MOOCs in recent times – this is despite the region being one of the first pioneers of such technology. In one particular piece of research it was found that interest in, and plans to introduce MOOCs, decreased from 14.35 to 13.6% from 2012 to 2015, whilst over the same period Europe saw an increase from 58% to 71.7% (EADTU 2015). A poignant question is then why there is such disparity between the two regions.
Ongoing studies are considering the whys behind such figures, with the same study that discovered the decrease in interest, finding that most US institutions disagreed with the notion that “MOOCs are a sustainable method for offering courses”, whilst in Europe, more than half agreed.
Adoption and attitude in developing countries
Even the relatively significant difference in attitudes between Europe and the US is far eclipsed by the differing accomplishments between learners within developing countries as compared to the US. One recent study has put this into concrete figures, finding that 49% of MOOC users in developing nations had received certification for at least one course, whilst in the US course completion rates range between 5% and 10%.
Despite a slight slowing in the number of US institutions looking towards MOOCs positively, there’s no doubt that this way of learning is helping students around the world in progressing in an inclusive, innovative online environment. What’s more with this technology offering a solution to markets that experience skills gaps MOOCs continue to play a vital role within industries; and as technology advances MOOC platforms, and all that they offer the remote learner, are only set to become ever more impressive.