Peer Learning and Massively Open ONLINE COURSES

September 5, 2014  |  Online Education | E-Learning  |  Share


Peer learning, an educational methodology in which individuals teach each other and themselves rather than learn from a professional lecturer, is transforming the way we look at education. Peer learning opens up social media and the Internet as sources for all-access education, especially considering that peer learning is often free and the interactions in peer learning are less intimidating than professor-pupil relationships. The advent of massively open ONLINE COURSES, or MOOCs, builds on the ideas of peer learning while combining them with the best elements of traditional education methods to create a best of both worlds approach that brings high quality education to anyone who wants it.

Massively open online courses are a relatively new format. The basic description of a MOOC is an course of schoolwork taught over the Internet that allows many, or even an unlimited amount of students to sign up. This is possible due to recorded lectures, online quizzes and tests, and other uses of technology that remove the traditional limits on student enrollments. MOOCs are often free, or at least low-cost. A variety of different venues offer MOOCs, from traditional COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES to new, entirely virtual learning projects. MOOCs taken in association with a school might award school credit or some other type of academic certification upon completion of the course. Other MOOCs can provide those who finish the course with badges, certificates, or other methods of recognition. Massively open online courses often emphasize the “open” and “online” elements of the title by providing forums and discussion boards to the participants, where they can discuss the coursework. MOOCs have a flexible definition- they may or may not have defined start and end dates, and different MOOC providers may reinterpret the idea to suit their needs.

There are some significant players in the MOOC arena. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a

 system of massively open online versions of its courses called MITx. This system is not for profit- all entrants get the benefits of an MIT education in each course for free. Harvard, the University of California, Berkeley, the Universities of Texas, Wellesley College, and Georgetown University have all since joined the program, which is now called edX. The whole initiative combines the offerings of several top tier American colleges, all available at no charge. Furthermore, the initiative has also begun collaborating with Google to build a generalized open source platform called Open edX that is designed to permit any school to build and offer an MOOC. Aside from that group, other organizations also offer MOOCs.

 For example, Coursera is a for-profit version of edX. Coursera has over a hundred member institutions, which consist of schools both in the United States and abroad. Coursera is a platform through which the member schools can offer MOOCs. Coursera has a variety of ways to make money- its chief source of revenue is by selling official certifications of completed coursework to its users. The company divides both the revenue and its profits with the member schools. Coursera offers courses in many different fields. Udacity is another big player in the massively open online course market. Udacity is for-profit, like Coursera, and it also originated from graduates of Stanford University, just like Coursera. Udacity is focused on computer science courses. It offers in-person proctored exams as the finals FOR THE COURSE, although taking these requires paying a fee. Udacity has fewer courses than Coursera, and the founder recently stated that he would like to move the company in the direction of providing credentials for professionals, rather than coursework for students. 

The variety of MOOC platforms means that students have a lot of options if they wish to pursue this form of education. Most MOOCs capitalize on their technological advantages and use some form of social media, like a discussion board, to permit students to engage in peer learning. This both saves time for instructors and helps students learn through teaching. Coursera even allows peers to grade each other’s homework assignments, checking the results using statistical algorithms.

 This, combined with the fact that MOOCs offer courses from the best universities in the world at no or low cost and the convenience of the online format, means that access to excellent education is more open than ever before. Instead of attending a school and taking a set list of courses while paying high tuition fees, students can take whatever they want, often at any time they want, and pay a fraction of what they would in a traditional college. The social media integration means that rather than the opportunity for peer learning being limited to a small group of people who are physically taking the same class, there is a potentially unlimited number of peers who are available to teach each other the material in any given class. Of course, in practice there will be fewer peers ready and able to teach, especially in the higher level courses, but with ENROLLMENTS in come classes topping 100,000, the odds of having a good opportunity for peer learning are significantly higher than in traditional education.

The collaborative nature of these courses, then, is a key element in the benefit they offer to their users. For now, few of these courses have transferable credit to physical colleges. But that may soon change. Udacity, in association with Georgia Institute of Technology, now operates an MOOC-based Masters degree in computer science that costs around $7,000- 80% less than the physical Masters. Other schools are opening their minds to the idea of MOOCs counting towards credit at their school. If MOOC platforms succeed in attaining the same legitimacy as official online courses do now, potential students need no longer be limited by age or proximity to a good school, or the money to pay for a degree. Instead, the open-access and collaborative model of MOOCs will be available to anyone interested in spending some time, and perhaps a little money, on their own education.

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