Assume that someone you know wants to become a coach. He or she finds the best coach training program available and enrolls for all of the courses. Instead of paying the $2000 or more that such courses usually cost, the potential coach takes all of the courses for free on the Internet. Unlikely? Not in the world of Massive Online Open Courses, best known as MOOCs.
If you work in higher education probably you’re familiar with MOOCs. Harvard, Stanford and MIT are among the institutions that post most, if not all of their courses online for any who want to enroll. A Time cover story (October 7, 2013) reports that the MIT courses have enrolled 150 million learners worldwide. Harvard has reached 1.25 million since their MOOC initiative began 17 months ago. Time argues that well-designed online courses are better than traditional on-campus lecture courses. I know from experience that interactive online courses, even those that charge tuition, can create better learning experiences for students. If done well they also are more demanding both on students and teachers. An educator-blogger in India suggests that MOOCs could change the world of education and impact billions of people. And what applies to university courses applies as well to professional training and other forms of education.
Of course online education works best at transferring information. Face-to-face interaction has something that online education cannot duplicate. Skills learning (like learning counseling, coaching or leadership skills) can’t always be taught well online. “For all the strengths of today’s digital technologies, some things are transmitted most effectively face-to-face. [These include] …the judgment, confidence, humility and skill in negotiation [and counseling] that come from hands on problem solving and teamwork; the perseverance, analytical skill and initiative that grow from conducting frontline lab research; the skill in writing and public speaking that comes from exploring ideas with mentors and peers.” Critics note that over 95% of those who enroll in MOOCs or other non-interactive online courses never complete them.
Nevertheless, the time has come to move from on-campus or online teaching that is limited to lecture talks, boring (often outdated) video lectures, or grueling modular courses. Changes like these can be disruptive but also exciting. Do you agree? Please comment.