Joseph Borza and Colin Keogh explain how massive open online courses are set to change the way in which people are educated across the globe and allow lecturers to reach a huge amount of new students
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Authors: Colin Keogh and Joseph Borza, Young Engineers Society

With the cost of further education rising rapidly around the world due to financial constraints, bulging attendance figures due to higher levels of school leavers attending third-level education and more complex and detailed course content, it seems that now more than ever, getting a college degree is becoming less affordable for a majority of young people. This has caused third-level institutes around the world to look to pastures new – in this case distance learning or massive open online courses (MOOCs).

MOOCs encompass large-scale interactive online courses, delivered via the internet through educational materials such as videos, reading, problem sets and quizzes. The lack of personal connection is often negated through the use of inbuilt forums, in which students, tutorial and lectures can connect, interact and learn together. It also allows professors and lecturers access to a huge amount of new students.

As one professor so eloquently put it, he normally lectures to fewer than a hundred students a year and so, over the course of his career, he has taught maybe at best a few thousand students. With the MOOC, however, he had educated more than this number of students in two months.

Image courtesy of Open Education Europa

These courses are normally free, with many offering participation certificates to students who complete the course. There are some very big names in academia associated with and providing massive online courses, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford and Harvard in the United States, to Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and numerous other major universities around the world.

The biggest names in MOOCs are EdX, which is an online platform launched by MIT and Harvard in 2012, and Coursera, an online course provider launched by Stanford also in 2012. There are many other course providers, such as Udacity & MITx, which are both US based, but there are many less well-known providers such as Schoo in Japan, Futurelean in the UK and iversity, a Berlin-based MOOC that crowd sourced its online course ideas through innovative competitions.

IRISH MOOC COURSES 

The range of courses offered is all-encompassing, from engineering and technology courses in mechanics, energy, electronics and physics from MIT, to business courses in operations management, accounting and business planning from top business schools worldwide. These are just a small selection of available courses, with every educational area covered, from the core sciences through to humanities and social sciences to art and education.

Closer to home, since early November, Sligo Institute of Technology has offered one of Ireland’s first MOOCs, entitled ‘Introduction to Lean Sigma Quality’, to a global student base. To date, these types of courses have been excellent for personal and professional development, but have not been formally accepted as higher qualifications. However, that seems set to change – in Europe, at least.

Just this month, iversity, which formally started operations on the 15th of October, announced that two of its online courses (‘Algorithms & Data Structures’ and ‘Fundamentals of Marketing’), will offer official European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System credits, allowing them to be used as course credit within all of the European Higher Education Area. This should open the flood gates to fully accredited massive online courses, allowing them to become an integral part of the higher education process.

There is also an offshoot of MOOCs called SPOCs (small private online courses), which are courses that are free and delivered through the internet like a MOOC, but access is restricted to a much smaller number. There is also selection process for applicants and the capacity for a more customised experience. All of these technology developments look set to revolutionise how people are educated across the globe in the years ahead.

Images courtesy of Open Education Europa

This article is a follow-up to a recent event held by the Young Engineers Society (YES) of Engineers Ireland on the opportunity for further learning through massive open online courses. If you are interested in attending a YES-run taster evening on MOOCs, please email yes@engineersireland.ie.  For further information on MOOCs and the institutions that host them, visit openeducationeuropa.eu.

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  Authors: Colin Keogh and Joseph Borza, Young Engineers Society With the cost of further education rising rapidly around the world due to financial constraints, bulging attendance figures due to higher levels of school leavers attending third-level education and more complex and detailed course content, it seems that now more than...