MOOCs: Funny Name, Serious Challenges for Learners

There are plenty of reasons to get your degree, but higher costs and a staggering lack of time have driven many students to seek alternatives. One of those alternatives, an unfortunately-acronym-ed category of online instruction (  called MOOCs, has received a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. 

MOOC ( stands for Massive Open Online Courses – and though many claim they are revolutionary, they raise some challenging questions for students who are actively seeking a way to advance themselves in today’s often dicey job marketplace.

The premise behind MOOCs is straightforward: Who wants to spend tens of thousands of dollars to sit on your backside listening to a lecture when you could take coursework from some of the biggest names in academia online for free?   In this case, the old adage is proving true: You get what you pay for. 

The MOOC model was a proposition that was intended to turn traditional education on its end. Classes are usually comprised of video lectures, assignments and discussions (interactive) – very much along the lines of what you’d get in a more conventional college, only free. And, in most cases, without the benefit of earning an actual, bona-fide degree for your effort.

No one could deny that the MOOC trend had a solid start – traditional colleges and universities claim nearly 20 million enrollees in the 2011-12 academic year, and Coursera says more than 4 million people signed up for its offerings. But one of the biggest obstacles to the MOOC model is that there’s no clear incentive for students to complete what they start.

Yes, it’s easy to enroll (register with an email and take classes as you please). Yes, there are some cool, interesting course offerings. But once students are enrolled, some MOOC instructors say that it’s rare to see them complete the course in sync with the instructor. That’s not necessarily a problem, they say, because typically MOOC coursework doesn’t build toward a recognized degree or certification.
In other words, even though the student hasn’t invested money in the course, if there isn’t a measureable payoff, most students don’t prioritize their commitment to learning. This is understandable when a lot of students are also working part- or full-time jobs to make ends meet. 

Students – all of us, really - need to have something meaningful to work toward – whether it’s a sought-after degree in a competitive field, leveraging military training toward a second career, or gaining professional certification. Personal growth and lifelong learning arguments aside, students need to be able to earn something that employers recognize and assign worth to.

There’s no question that the time is ripe for intelligent conversation about the future of higher education in our country. As an educational administrator, my highest priority is to ensure that students have access to exceptional instruction, can engage with their instructors and peers for a fully-immersive experience, and gain a measurable benefit in exchange for their time and investment. 

While the MOOCs continue to sort out their business model, there are, in fact, numerous accredited, high-quality, affordable degree programs that are recognized and valued by employers. Grantham University ( is one of them. 

Have you considered taking or have you taken a MOOC class?  What was your experience?  We’d love to hear about it – the good, the bad, and the indifferent. 


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