Boosted by the Pandemic, MOOCs Are Here to Stay. How Can We Improve Them?

By Felipe Torres Gianvittorio
March 18, 2021

When Dave Cormier and Bryan Alexander came up with the term MOOC in 2008, they were looking to describe a course at the University of Manitoba in which 2300 students enrolled through the internet. They didn’t imagine it would become an entire industry. And they couldn’t foresee the growth MOOCs would experience in 2020 thanks to a pandemic.

According to ClassCentral, one of every three people who have ever attended a MOOC did so during 2020. The impressive number of new users for Coursera, which grew from 8 million in 2019 to 31 million in 2020, is the most evident proof of this explosion.

Despite this growth, there’s still room for improvement. Online learning experts have spent a good deal of their time in recent months sharing best practices for remote teaching.

Ask for Feedback. Keep It Realistic

Many people who enroll in MOOCs are looking for training or skills to make them more suitable for getting a job. The range for this could go from essential language learning to advanced professional IT skills.

According to Grant Aldrich, Founder and CEO of Online Degree, students’ main complaint about some popular online courses is that they are not relevant to the real world. He recommends that the course designers create a type of forum for course feedback. “Try to integrate that feedback to make the courses more practical. This will boost the value that students get out of the course and make them more successful,” Aldrich said.

Attention Spans Are Shorter

The internet brought a constant flow of information, and some believe that attention spans have grown shorter as a result. Regardless, the pedagogy of microlearning has become highly popular with many learners.

John Ross, CEO of Test Prep Insight, believes breaking up classes into shorter, more digestible units adds significant value to MOOC course design.

“Now that quarantine and social distancing restrictions are lifting, I would expect people to be busier than ever during 2021,” Ross said. “People will want to travel, socialize, and generally be free of their homes. This means busier schedules and shorter time slots throughout days and weekends to complete courses. Having units broken up into shorter chunks would allow course takers to more efficiently and effectively complete courses.”

Students Know They Are Not On Campus

Many course providers try to offer the closest experience that students would get on campus, entirely missing the benefits that remote learning can deliver. Students know they’re not looking for traditional education – so, they’re expecting something different.

“The biggest challenge with the way we’ve approached MOOCs is that we innovated the scale of education access but didn’t change our understanding of why students enroll,” said Amrit Ahluwalia, managing editor at The EvoLLLution. “In open online courses like this, students aren’t just looking to complete a program as they would on campus. Instead, they’re often looking for ‘just-in-time’ upskilling or reskilling opportunities that help them advance their careers.”

Ahluwalia believes MOOC programming should be recalibrated to be more modular, genuinely delivering the value modern learners expect.

MOOCs Are Not Just Content

Even if your educational content is brilliant and students can go through it at their own pace, they’re going to need help eventually. Most MOOC providers don’t offer mentorship as part of their programs.

Brandon Ahmad, Founder and CEO of Instructor Brandon, underscores this point. “We had one big difference in mind when designing our educational content, which was to put an extra amount of effort into the quality of the content,” he said. “But we also focused on building a platform to accompany our students during their self-paced learning processes.”

This is particularly relevant for technical or specialized training. “Most of our students are either professionals looking to get an official certification to grow their income or people looking to start from the beginning,” Ahmad said.

The continuous expansion of these educational offers online is excellent news for everyone because it means access to more opportunities for future professionals.

As innovation is the element that brought us to the point, let’s work on continuing perfecting education.

Featured Image: Surface, Unsplash.