Why MOOCs are still worth it

In spite of the poor reputation massive open online courses (MOOCs) have gained due to their low completion rates, these courses remain a valuable option for students and non-students alike. 

MOOCs are online courses that a college offers free to the public without college credit. With the excitement of these classes wearing off, a recent Inside Higher Education column suggested they caused more harm than good with their low completion rates and expense to the host school, and stated they are perhaps “more faddish than altruistic.”  

However, despite the negatives of MOOCs, these courses remain worthwhile for both colleges and students, and should be taken advantage of by both.

As reported in a New York Times article, MOOCs have amassed acceptance from elite universities such as Princeton and Duke through educational resource Coursera a year after the site’s inception. Even USF has offered several MOOCs hosted through Canvas, with titles ranging from “Fairy Tales: Origins and Evolution of Princess Stories” to “What is Music? Finding Your Song.”

Though one may question the motivation for enrolling in a no-credit course that doesn’t help toward a degree, MOOCs provide students with a sense of versatility they may not get in a fast-paced schedule. For instance, lectures that take up an entire class can be broken into smaller, focused online “units” and allow students to take their time on certain pieces, as pointed out by a recent MIT Technology Review article

As for people who are not college students, gaining credit may not be necessary depending on the subject of the course. People taking MOOCs such as “Common Sense Economics for Life!” or “CPR, AED and First Aid,” offered via Canvas, may do so simply for the practical knowledge these courses provide.

As stated earlier, critics of MOOCs often point to their extremely low completion rates. A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education found that out of a million students across 16 MOOCs, a meager 4 percent completed them, with completion rates ranging from 2 to 14 percent.

This point, though, ignores the free and massive nature of MOOCs. As stated in the MIT Technology Review, some people prefer to sign up for a MOOC in order to the view the curriculum of a college-level class risk-free, without the serious intention of finishing the course. Researchers from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also determined that completion rates don’t properly judge MOOCs’ success, as finishing isn’t always the goal.

The fact that MOOCs don’t produce income for the host college can be offset by the fact that professors use these courses as a supplement for their students enrolled in a for-credit course, a dynamic mentioned in the MIT Technology Review. For instance, some professors implement content in MOOCs as an alternative for attending lecture.

Overall, MOOCs currently offer a unique opportunity for people seeking higher education who may not be able to afford it or who may have unpredictable lives. The courses are versatile enough to justify their funding, and allow anyone from the curious passerby to the serious student to learn about a wide
selection of subjects. 

Russell Nay is a freshman majoring in mass communications.