March 04, 2015 02:46 UTC


MOOCs Are Moving Forward

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MOOCs add to a tradition of what is known as distance learning
MOOCs add to a tradition of what is known as distance learning


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From VOA Learning English, this is EXPLORATIONS in Special English. I’m Bob Doughty.
And I’m Faith Lapidus. Today we tell about the growing popularity of Massive Open Online Courses in higher education.
The movement toward education by computer is developing fast. Massive Open Online Courses, called MOOCs, are changing how people learn in many places. For years, people could receive study materials from colleges or universities and take part in online classes. But such classes were not designed for many thousands of students at one time, as MOOCs are.
Course materials provided by MOOCs can serve both those studying far away from school and those attending classes in person. Anyone with a computer and an online connection can sign up for a MOOC. Students do not have to pass entrance exams. They also do not need to have studied the subject before.
One professor praised MOOCs because they let people who could not attend a traditional college continue their education. He asked, “Who knows where the next Albert Einstein will come from?”  
The spread of Internet learning for huge numbers of people is leading some colleges to join the movement. Major universities like Stanford in California and Harvard in Massachusetts have invested millions of dollars to help launch MOOCs. Those schools and others may have heard an attention-getting prediction. The man who created the MOOC service Udacity says that in fifty years, only ten traditional universities will remain in the world.
That prediction came from Sebastian Thrun, a computer scientist probably best known for his part in making Google’s driverless car. He is still a research professor at Stanford University. But he left his teaching position at Stanford to help start Udacity, a provider of MOOCs.
Universities that fail to join the movement for MOOCs may be worried about their chances of survival. Colleges also hope to gain more students and cut operational costs in return for their investments.
The web site Class Central says twenty-three new courses were added to the list of available MOOCs by October first. These study programs are from about four weeks to twenty-four weeks long. They usually have videos, homework, weekly tests, a final examination and a rating in the class.
A growing number of organizations offer the courses. They include the California Institute of Technology, also known as Caltech. Other providers include edX, a partnership of universities led by Harvard, and a not-for-profit company called Coursera.
Two Stanford University computer scientists, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, launched Coursera a year ago after years of research. Today, Coursera and other MOOC providers offer hundreds of courses.
Daphne Koller says that before long, people may wonder why college students ever filled a room to hear a lecture. Traditionally, colleges and universities required teachers to give lectures to their classes for an hour or more. The teacher provided information, and the students took notes.
This method did not seem satisfactory to Professor Koller and others at Stanford. She and her students organized a program that tested possible changes. The changes they accepted became part of Coursera. One such reform was the auto graded assessment, in which students test themselves on their progress.
Andrew Ng was working separately from Professor Koller at the time. He was developing technology for improving educational methods while she worked on course content or information. Her main goal was to increase the time that students spent with their professor.
The two teachers came to understand that they had the makings of something new. In fall of two thousand eleven, Stanford offered courses open to students who do not attend the university.
Mr. Ng remembers launching the courses, and finding that he and Daphne Koller had created something very popular.
“We’d been working on technology for several years, and this had culminated last year with Stanford University offering three free online courses, each of which had an enrollment of something like one hundred thousand students and up. And based on that, we
Today, that “something” has more than one million students. Will many of these students do all of their college work by computer? If so, they would enter the professional world with course completion documents instead of a degree. For years, a degree has been the sign to employers that students have completed the requirements for a college education.
But today, employers may be more than willing to offer work to a student with an excellent record in MOOC courses without a college degree. That is especially true at technology companies.
Andrew Ng says many people want to know why people would pay to attend college when they can use MOOCs instead.
“So, one question we have often been asked is if you can take all those Princeton and Stanford courses online for free, why would anyone still pay two hundred thousand dollars for a Princeton degree?”
But Andrew Ng says attending classes in person at a good university is still important. He does not believe that course content alone is the real value of attending a university like Princeton. Instead, he says, relationships between students and professors and with other students are more important.
Mr. Ng says many professors are creating on-line videos for their lectures. They then ask their students to watch the videos at home the week before class. The computer scientist notes it is lot more fun for students to work in teams at solving problems than listening to a lecture.
Many universities hope to receive return on their investments in ways other than saving on operations. Coursera, for example, plans to develop a job placement service for top-performing students. After a time, the money from that service would flow back to the schools, Andrew Ng says.
Moody’s Investor Service predicts that MOOCs will help large, famous universities gain more students. It says schools that create content for MOOCs can earn money by providing the course material to smaller schools.
But the investment service is warning that smaller, less well-known colleges may suffer because of MOOCs. It says students may want to receive certificates from major universities instead of attending a local junior college that provides traditional credits.
Recently, the University of Washington said it was the first American university to offer credit for MOOCs, credit that could be used toward a degree from the school. The university’s online courses include those in computer science, information security and risk management.
One criticism of MOOCs has been that most courses being offered are in science, mathematics and technology. But several courses in literature are now available.
Barry Nelson heads the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences at Northwestern University in Illinois. He says education has changed over time, and that educators have continued to improve their methods of helping people learn.
“I certainly think it will affect things, but I like to put things in a little bit of perspective. We have had new paradigms almost since the beginning of the printing of words in the book allowed people to learn things separately, and without the need of a university or any other kind of kind of class. And we have been doing computerated learning and distance instruction for many, many years. “
Professor Nelson says it is far from sure how much MOOCs will change college life. He said he thinks that the universities of tomorrow will combine many kinds of learning.
“How it will all go together is still up in the air. I have been of the opinion which is what universities will evolve to do is to still present some traditional classes, but that universities in some sense will be integrated.”
He also says computer-based distance learning and asynchronous learning will be part of the future university. Asynchronous learning lets students do the course work at any time. The professor predicts that those methods will be used with individual tutoring, life experience, independent study and lectures.
A problem for MOOCs seemingly arose recently when officials in Minnesota informed Coursera about an old statute. The rule said universities could not provide free online courses within the state without paying for registration.
But the problem seemingly was cleared up quickly. The state said its people were welcome to take online courses from Coursera. The Minnesota higher education office promised that it will work with the state legislature in January to amend the statute. An official said that for now, he sees no reason to require registration of free, non-credit courses.
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Comment Sorting
by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
12/10/2012 12:40 PM
I agree this MOOCs is an excellent system to afford anyyone high level intelligence for low cost anywhere and anytime. But I'm afraid MOOCs have some disadvantages as partially refered in this story. I think its biggest disadvantage is that MOOCs is basically an one-way tool for both lecturers and learners. One-way means it would work so less bilateral check system between teachers and students that delivered contents are apt to be left nonrevised out-of-date, and the assesment of learners' achievement would be loose left to their own assesment. I think the consequence of these disadvantages appears reflect on the learners' low accomplishment rate of each cource.

by: Roman from: UK
12/09/2012 9:24 AM
This is interesting review of MOOC. I would like to recommend directory of MOOC courses or everyone interested in finding free courses

by: Melina from: LA
12/09/2012 2:49 AM
What's the name of the song? i wanna find it. does anyone know?

by: Soe Thu from: MYANMAR
12/08/2012 2:19 AM
I like this forum.I get listening experience for me.

by: Bryan Bechtol from: Mobile, Al.
12/07/2012 10:57 AM
We have been trying to get the Radius Ruler into our school systems. My partner past away last year and he had all of the data. I wish to give our countries school systems the right to the Radius Ruler for learning purposes. Students learn to measure length and angles but they don’t even touch radius until high school. If we introduce students to letter and symbols at an early age, we could build their confidence and go further in the courses we are falling behind in. Introduce the Radius Ruler at the 5th grade, have them cut out the schematics of the ruler and as a project cut them out and show them that there is a way to measure that ball, circle or curve. When the get to the 6th grade, they will learn how to use it. You also can learn how to use it on you tube “How to use the Radius Ruler” Teachers can pass out various round objects and have the student measure their object and give them the formula to find the area of that object. There is no quick fix, but this will help them build the confidence they need to go further. So please go to “Radius Ruler” on face book or and build one yourself. It’s fun and young minds will act as sponges when they create one and start measuring everything.
‘ We should change history! There is a new tool that can be used to get the radius of a curve or arch without using a formula that still has a margin of error. You will not have to have a background in mathematics, you just pull it out of your pocket or toolbox, and measure the radius in seconds. If we get this in the Common Core Standards, it will have a significant impact on the future, make employees more efficient and save time and money. We have made it free to all teachers and students by putting it on facebook, or just go to and copy, paste, print and build your own for free! No credit card needed or wanted for Educational purposes.

by: Lilian Huang from: USA
12/06/2012 8:53 PM
This is a very good news for person who cannot attend regular school, but still want to improve themselves.

12/06/2012 4:35 PM
Thank you for introducing distant e-learning. Such education can give foreign a chance to peep into another culture and getting a university degree simultaneously learnig his own domestic lessons. Such education will offer students a chance to interact with other cultures. A cultural tolerance can easily be achieved. I'm on the outlook for such and oppertunity either for me or for my children. Thank you.

by: Leo from: Colombia
12/06/2012 2:44 AM
MOOCs are great, I'll be looking for one to join :)
I like selftraining and MOOCs are more or less a little of guided selftraining as I understand them.
Thanks VOA

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