Leah Belsky and Michal Tsur of open source video platform Kaltura had a great article in EdSurge last week on where MOOCs have failed to disrupt and where they have provided lasting value in education. The whole article is worth a read, and I won’t recap it here. But I do want to highlight one of the areas the authors suggest MOOCs have provided value: the popularization of learning.
They write: “MOOCs had an impact culturally. They enabled people to be lifelong learners and made it “cool” to learn during free time or as part of training for work. Like TED lectures or PBS, they expanded the world of informal learning opportunities right at a time when more and more people are reconsidering the university path and thinking differently about where learning fits in their life (i.e., hobby, self-directed, something needed to get ahead, etc.).”
In other words, MOOCs have made learning cool. This couldn’t have come at a better time—in the United States at least, education’s reputation could frankly use a bit of a boost (to say nothing about workplace training). Despite the fact that United States spends about $12,000 per student (which is more than many other countries), with parents and other sources contributing even more, U.S. students continue to rank poorly compared with those in other nations. An OECD study release last year showed that U.S. adults aren’t doing so well either. And now with student loan debt out of control and many new graduates having a hard time finding work, one-third of Millennial students regret going to college. These are troubling numbers, especially since knowledge is today’s top global currency.
There are many explanations for why American students are having trouble, but one of the major ones is that school is boring, and it’s definitely not cool. Students sit in classrooms and listen to lectures, but they don’t want to be there—they would rather be checking Facebook or watching YouTube videos (this is probably what they’re doing a good portion of the time anyway!).
But MOOCs are different—many of the best courses utilize YouTube videos, social media, video games, and other technologies that are decidedly not boring. They are designed so that you don’t have to commit to watching a full hour-long lecture: if you have 10 minutes, you can watch a short video; if you only have 5 minutes, you can still do a quick quiz or practice; and even if you have only 1 minute, you can jump onto a discussion board or scroll through a Twitter chat. These things are fun, they are interactive, and (best of all) they can be done on your phone.
MOOCs also make learning cool in other ways. They give students the opportunity to learn from the top experts in their fields as well as to work on real-world projects, which makes what the learning immediately relevant. They also allow learners to try new things and explore new fields. In this way, they allow learning to become a hobby that anyone can enjoy, and people of all ages and all backgrounds have picked up this hobby with gusto.
There is no question that education is important, for individuals who are or will be competing in the job market, as well as for countries competing in the global market. But education doesn’t have to be a chore. Even if MOOCs never succeed in disrupting traditional education, they have brought lasting value in helping transition learning from something people have to do into something they want to do, a contribution that is arguably more important than providing new credit pathways, increasing access, and so on.