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MOOCs and MOODLES and Modules – Oh my!

coursera5The online learning landscape continues to expand and get more exciting every day – even if things are still very much in a state of flux.  The dynamic nature of the scene and the massive potential that the dynamism hints at are exhilarating.  Today, I’d like to discuss Cousera.org and its many course offerings.  Incidentally, MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, and a MOODLE is a software tool or platform designed to help manage the learning process.  Coursera creates MOOCs.

A MOOC is an online course, but it’s a bit different from other online courses you may have taken.  MOOCs are typically open to everyone and free (although there may be a fee if it’s a for-credit course.)  And while MOOCs typically have reading assignments, quizzes and other academic requirements, the real value is believed to be in the interaction that happens between students and in the networks of learners that can easily persist after the course is over.

There is now an array of companies offering free online courses and MOOCs, ranging from Khan Academy’s large inventory of short instructional videos, to edX’s catalog of full Harvard, MIT and UC Berkley courses.  While some of these companies have been able to raise substantial amounts of venture capital, it’s not yet clear precisely how the profit model will work.  Apparently, some companies plan to make money offering transferable credits while others see profit opportunities in linking potential employers to students. Still others are completely non-profit.    Another “X-factor” is the relative value potential employers will place on online learning.  Simply put, that remains to be seen.

coursera2Coursera.org is one of the companies in the MOOC mix.  It partners with universities to put course offerings online.   According to the Coursera website, they have 27 million students and are currently partnered with 29 universities across 4 continents.  In addition, they’ve recently reached agreements with 33 more universities – 16 of which are international.  The list of new universities is impressive and includes: Rutgers, University of Colorado at Boulder, Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, just to mention a few.

A quick scan of available Coursera courses reveals an impressive selection, ranging from Quantum Physics to songwriting.  The courses are similar to traditional college classes in length — I saw offerings ranging from 5 to 15 weeks.  And Coursera courses are the “real deal”, making available the partnered university’s course lectures, text books, problem sets, and other learning resources.  In an interesting twist, I notice there are now Meetup.com groups for people in Coursera courses to meet face-to-face to enhance the learning.  Here in Denver, for example, there is currently a Coursera Quantum Physics Meetup group.

coursera6Best of all, Coursera courses are free and available to online learners anywhere, via video
and web-based testing.  Coursera is now also offering what it calls a Signature Track for selected courses, which is a slightly different model.  Students in Signature Track courses pay a fee of from $30 to $100, and receive a certificate at the end of the course.  Interestingly, this may not be a great deal for learners in some countries where $100 could be a month’s salary.

Baby Using ComputerRegardless of how this all develops, the current explosion in the availability of online
course material is an absolute bonanza for those with the FLYODI learning philosophy.  For anyone who sees learning as the key to a fulfilled life, what could be better than having free, unlimited, high-quality, instructional material at your fingertips?



So, I’ve decided to check out Coursera.org and report back to you about my experiences.  I’ve signed up for “The Camera Never Lies” and I’ll fill you in on the course as it goes along.

If you have experience with MOOCs or Coursera, or if you’d just like to comment about the expanding world of online learning, we’d love to hear your thoughts.  Incidentally, what value do you think employers will place on MOOC learning?


Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative
Harvard Extension School
MIT Open Courseware
Open Yale Courses
Stanford Engineering Everywhere
Webcast Berkeley

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3 thoughts on “MOOCs and MOODLES and Modules – Oh my!

  1. Ryan Colby

    These free / low-cost education efforts are great and it’s a noble idea to try to create a way for people to get an education without ending up with crushing student loan debt but unless they’re able to reach some rough parity between the value that employers (and other schools) place on the resulting education, then they’ll run a distant second to traditional schools and degrees.

  2. Mike Massey

    It seems to me if they could just get to the point where the credits for the classes were transferable and applicable to a degree at a regular school, that would be the key. Then you could take half (or more) of your credits online for free (or at a low cost) and dramatically reduce the overall expense of a degree. Besides, you don’t want to take ALL your classes online anyway because there is still value in onsite classes and experiences that just can’t be replicated online — and I’m not talkin’ just about the frat parties.

  3. Riley Sikor

    I don’t see how things like coursera will ever replace real schools. It just doesn’t work for anything that involves sophisticated and expensive equipment — I think back to my chemistry labs, my robotics classes and so forth. In addition, I think the face-to-face interaction in classes is more important that people think.

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