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MOOCs: Threat or Benefit to Traditional Training?

Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs, are a way to take basic course materials and make them accessible to anyone online. MOOCs are great for people who have an interest and want to connect with others with a similar interest in learning the subject. MOOCs are still rather new—the first ones were introduced in 2008—therefore, here is a succinct explanation. What is a MOOC?

Instead of, say, registering for Composition 100 at a university, you can access the course materials, including videos, notes and whatnot, online. Anyone else can do the same, which leads to connected learning. You may even be able to take a course for free, only paying to receive official credit after completion. MOOCs are distributed and collaborative, and the content can change with input from students.

In a way, MOOCs are more about learning than meeting a requirement, and more about grasping a concept that having a fancy diploma on the wall. Though MOOCs received a big boost when universities such as Stanford and MIT formed a consortium, the concept was first seen as a threat by some institutions of higher learning and other education providers. However, MOOCs are increasingly embraced by universities, as well as other organizations and individual instructors, to reach more learners.

A complement to instructor-led classes
MOOCs can enhance in-person, instructor-led classes. Let’s say an instructor is going to lead a workshop on how to design a basic web site. The class is more about the look and feel of a good site than the technical aspects of HTML. It’s not mandatory that students understand HTML and other languages, but it would make the web design class much easier for them. When students sign up for the class, the instructor can point them to a copy of HTML for Dummies or suggest they sign up for a class at the local community college. Or she could direct students to a MOOC that addresses HTML aspects in a collaborative environment.

Improving basic skills
A professor of Anthropology the University of Memphis wanted his gradstudents to take a course on technical writing. This resulted from a focus group composed of local employers who said poor writing skills were their biggest complaint with graduates. However, the university did not offer a course to adequately meet the needs of the professor’s grad students, and what was offered was not cheap. Instead, the professor found a MOOC offered by a Stanford professor. Not only did his students’ writing improve—making them more marketable to future employers—it also became a lot easier for the professor to read their theses.

MOOCs can be used as an addendum or precursor to more advanced training by addressing a specific need or prerequisite. They also can help ensure all trainees are at a similar level of knowledge when class starts. If you have thoughts or experiences regarding MOOCs, class registration software, or any other subject appropriate for human consumption, please use this form to get in touch. If you’re interested in developing a MOOC, visit

Article By:

Ron Smith

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