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Online Education and the World of MOOCs

A MOOC on a tablet

Education is among one of the best investments a person can pursue to succeed in life. But the world of education is rapidly changing. With the COVID-19 pandemic, millions are turning to online education instead of traditional learning approaches. This not only applies to the typical college-age student but to people from all walks of life.  And many are looking to MOOC (massive open online courses) for the answer.

The concept of MOOC is not new as many online learning companies launched their platforms almost a decade ago. But its appeal has changed dramatically over the last few months. While many universities have struggled with switching to online education, MOOC companies are ahead of the game. This is a major reason so many of these online skills learning ventures are thriving. With years of experience gained through trial and error, such companies have refined their educational offerings. As a result, these platforms may well be the future of online education.

“We have historically been very resistant to the MOOC [Massive Open Online Course] model and for good reason. As we continue to move online, I hope that we are moving to embrace good online learning.” – Dr. Bernadine Barnes, Arts Professor, Wake Forest University

The Up and Down History of MOOCs

Three of the largest online learning companies today all began exploring MOOC in 2012. The company edX was one such company created by academic professors at MIT and Harvard. Coursera as well as Udacity were other notable pioneers in the field started by Stanford professors. All three began offering free courses online to individuals with hopes of shifting educational paradigms. But despite some major backing by venture capitalists, their start was a bit rocky. Initial completion rates of the courses offered were only around 10 percent. Suffering from screen fatigue and limited attention spans, many aborted after a few weeks.

Someone utilizing a MOOC app on their phone
Online education has taken a turn for the MOOCs.

Over the last 8 years, much has changed for online learning companies offer MOOC. Most notably, they realized that online learning was quite different from classroom learning. Likewise, online curricula needed to change as well in order to keep students engaged. Through experiential learning, they found a recipe that has worked much better. This recipe includes short videos less than 6 minutes, interactive drills and tests, online collaborative forums, and online tutoring. These strategies along with opportunities for certificates and degrees boosted completion rates over 50 percent. Fortunately, all of this happened before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“Active learning works, and social learning works. And you have to understand that teaching online and learning online are skills of their own.” – Anant Agarwal, Founder and CEO of edX

Major Online Skills Learning Companies Today

Over the last few years, the number of universities participating in MOOC has grown significantly. More than 900 academic institutions now offer such online courses. Likewise, more than 100 million students are enrolled in MOOC online skills learning. Some universities have their own programs as do some governments. But the majority of these online skills learning courses are provided by online learning companies. The following are some of the best known in the world today.

  • Coursera – With more than 160 universities and 20 industry partners, Coursera has the largest offering of MOOC. All total, this figure exceeds 4,000 courses, which includes certificate and master’s degree programs. Their online skills learning platform offers both free and paid options.
  • Udacity – This online skills learning company was the first to reach unicorn status among all MOOC providers. The company awards “nanodegrees” for many of its programs, which can usually be completed within 4 to 6 months. Udacity has over 1,200 courses to offer. Likewise, its clients not only include individuals but corporations as well.
  • edX – By course volume, edX is the second largest MOOC company with over 2,200 courses currently being offered. Likewise, it has roughly 140 university partners that help develop curricula and programs for its platform. edX also offers a variety of different certificate degrees for different professions.
  • Future Learn – This online skills learning company was launched by Open University in the United Kingdom. However, today, Open University has partnered with the SEEK Group in Australia to expand its MOOC platform. Future Learn is now the largest such company in the UK, and it boasts over 10 million users.
  • Kadenze – Though more specific in its offerings, Kadenze is also recognized as a leader in MOOC offerings. This online skills learning platform is more focused on the creative arts, however. It has partnered with CalArts and a number of other art institutions and universities to create quality courses.
  • Canvas Network – This MOOC company is among one of the smaller ones in the field. In the past, Canvas Network offered a greater variety of subjects. But today, it has focused its online skills learning to teachers. As a result, it is a great resource for educators looking for ongoing professional development.

“Digital-skills jobs will be where there is greatest demand, and those jobs will be less likely to be affected by pandemics in the future.” – Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera

The Future of MOOCs

With the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an incredible increase in interest for MOOC educational platforms. Coursera alone reported 10 million new users within a 2-month period of time. This represents a 7-fold increase over enrollment last year, and other online skills learnings companies are reporting the same. However, few know how these increases will translate for these companies long term. What is clear is that many people (and businesses) are interested in developing their skills and knowledge. And with many online learning platforms now using MOOC more effectively, optimism seems justified. MOOC’s mission to radically change education’s landscape for good may not be that far-fetched.

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