Moocs and Distance Learning

New post from Mark Tuminello –

Mark Tuminello moocsAs a professor who teaches ‘live,’ in the flesh, I found this article in The Guardian about distance learning interesting.  For instance, I didn’t realize that in 1938, an organization called the International Council for Correspondence Education was founded, with nearly 100 representatives in attendance.  Of course, distance learning is now more closely associated with advances in technology that is doubtlessly increasing the value of such an education.

The UK’s Open University had only been established for a couple years when it began broadcasting on the BBC in 1971.  JC Stobart, the channel’s first Director of Education, hoped to create a ‘wireless university.’  25,000 students watched the broadcast, focusing on the arts, social sciences, science, and math.

Even though we have all since seen commercials for online degrees since then, offered by universities and other organizations, distance learning really came into its own in 2008.  That’s thanks to Moocs – Massive Open Online Courses.  Moocs are courses that are free and open to an unlimited number of students.  Since 2008, MOOCs have grown rapidly, gaining critical acclaim.  Once particular Mooc provider, about a year ago, boasted nearly three million registered students.  That dwarves the number of students of the successful Open University over its entire existence.

To be fair, less than ten percent of students complete a course when it comes to Moocs.  That’s the catch with a free service, I suppose.  But those who are taking advantage of Moocs in a real way are avoiding rising tuition fees.  In the UK, they have received 10% fewer applications annually for the past couple years, between full- and part-time students.

Not all of these potential students are participating in distance learning, with numbers overall remaining the same year to year.  Distance learners tend to be older than the average university student, with many of them already holding degrees.  There’s still a lot of growth potential in distance learning, particularly as the technology develops.

The International Council for Correspondence Education is now known as the International Countil for Open and Distance Education.  They are also now partnered with Unesco.  There is a lot of hope in Moocs, even while the critics denounce it.  There is a generally accepted notion that there is still a long way to go before Moocs make a serious impact and become a significant portion of overall education.  Others wonder how Moocs will change education.  Democratizing education seems like a natural effect, but as there is no financial benefit as of now for providing Moocs, pay-to-learn models shouldn’t be too worried at the moment.

from Mark Tuminello

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