What Are MOOCs Good For?
Although massive open online courses (MOOCs) have not revolutionized the higher-education model the way advocates expected them to, they still have value. In September, researchers led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) David Pritchard published a study of an online course, which determined the MOOC effectively communicated difficult concepts, even to students who were not up to MIT's standards. MOOCs essentially are content, similar to textbooks, that when used as the centerpiece of a well-taught course can benefit learners. MIT's Sanjay Sarma says many of the MOOCs' underlying technologies, which are interactivity- and assessment-centered, can be useful for students on campus. Meanwhile, Harvard University's David Malan notes MOOC tools add another dimension to his lectures by enabling them to be split up online into shorter segments, so students can spend as much time on each unit as they require. "We're nearing the point where it's a superior educational experience, as far as the lectures are concerned, to engage with [students] online," he says. Pritchard says MOOCs are prompting people across higher education to consider how they can warrant charging huge lecture fees to students when better and less costly courses are available online. He also thinks MOOCs could play a role in education at the high school and lower levels, given that teachers are already a major audience.