MOOC – No Longer Moot

Today, if you wanted to learn computer programming what options would you consider? Would you join a private institution offering this course, or find a part-time course being offered by a prestigious university, or go online to self-study?
If you go with the third option you would be spoilt for choice.
As a beginner you could go to Khan Academy and take their introductory course on Computer Science, where you would learn JavaScript hands-on using their built-in code emulator ( Or, you could head to and watch video lectures of the courses taken by Stanford University professors on computer programming ( Or, you could register for one of the several free courses at ( Or, you could sign-up for a free course being offered by Harvard, MIT and Berkeley at their EdX online learning platform ( Or, you could take a free course on Udacity ( that promises a hands-on, problem based learning experience.
If you choose to go with Coursera, Udacity or EdX, not just for computer programming but for a number of other courses, you would be one of the tens of thousands of students from all over the globe taking that course. That is why these courses are being called MOOCs or Massively Open Online Courses.
The term MOOC was coined by David Cormier and in this 4-minute video he explains what a MOOC is and how it is different from a traditional learning experience –
In 2008, George Siemens and Stephen Downes conducted one of the first MOOCs. Titled, ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge’ the MOOC was on how knowledge gets constructed in a networked age and how deep learning happens when meaning is co-constructed by a network of connections (learners, knowledge networks, diversity of opinions…). The essence of connectivism is similar to what Seth Godin describes as role of education – not collecting the dots (knowledge nuggets) but connecting the dots. In fact, Siemens’ ‘Connectivism’ is a learning theory for the digital age and is the undergirding pedagogy (or should we say ‘webagogy’) in MOOCs.
In 2011 professors Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig conducted an online course on Artificial Intelligence, which was taken by more than 150,000 students from over 200 countries. This initiative has now transformed into Udacity.
MOOCs seem to be the foundation of the disruption that is emerging in education, which could be described as the ‘Eklavya Model of Self-Directed Learning’. In the Indian epic Mahabharata, Eklavya is a tribal prince who aspires to learn archery but is not taken as a student by the famous teacher Dronacharya because he is not of the right lineage. So Ekalvya sculpts a clay statue of the teacher and embarks on a journey of self-learning. MOOCs, taken by teachers who are best in the field, are like virtual Dronacharyas who are there to guide and facilitate anyone who is passionate about learning.
MOOCs are an evolving construct and in every new MOOC the facilitators are trying new experiments – building in tests of recall into the video to make it more cognitively engaging, giving assignments which are then peer reviewed by the community, creating self-study groups, encouraging students to contribute to the course Wiki, catalyzing face-to-face meet-ups among students and so forth.
While MOOCs are excellent for self-learning, as yet they do not provide certification that is recognized by employers or traditional institutes of education. However, it is a matter of time before such informal, self-directed learning becomes more and more acceptable. Already initiatives like Mozilla’s ‘Open Badges’ are experimenting with recognizing informal learning and in future projects and e-portfolios created by students in a MOOC, individually and collaboratively, will become acceptable as evidence of learning and understanding.
The main criticism of MOOCs is that a great learning experience is one which is customized and personalized to the specific needs of a student. However, MOOCs by their very definition are tools of mass education. But this will change.
One change that is already underway is the ‘Flipped classroom’ – where students ‘gain knowledge’ using online open educational resources like MOOCs and then use the classroom time with the teacher to dwell into what they did not understand. Integration of learner analytics (check out Khan Academy’s learner analytics) that gives details not only about how much time a student spent on the learning resources but also highlights which steps were problematic, goes a long way in helping teachers tackle individual students’ problems. In the coming years more insightful learner analytics will become part of MOOCs and make mass customization of education a reality.
So will you use a MOOC to learn computer programming? If lectures and theoretical exercises are not your cup of tea and you really learn when you get your hands dirty then get yourself a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino, or for your kids check out MIT’s Scratch initiative, or GameStar Mechanic or Coding Academy, and become part of the fast growing community of DIY learners. I will leave it to your curiosity to Google these to find out more. Collaborative learning-by-doing is the next disruption in education that is unfolding but more about that in another issue.
For Learners
MOOCs are a boon for you. Don’t have a good teacher, or don’t have a teacher, or don’t understand the way your teacher teaches, go search for a MOOC or other open educational resources. Even if the course being offered is of advance level listen to the introductory lectures for each topic. For example, MIT professor Walter Lewin has great lectures on Physics for under-graduates. If you are in school you could listen to the introductory lecture on each topic – 
For Teachers
MOOCs are a great way to keep your knowledge up-to-date. Not only can you participate in the courses to gain knowledge, since there are tens of thousands of participants, you could use MOOCs to gain insights into where students get stuck and use that to enhance your teaching. Also, since the students are from hundreds of countries you could consider organizing physical meet-ups in your city, where you could facilitate the students face-to-face, perhaps for a nominal fee. Of course, you could also consider making your classroom a flipped classroom.
Wikipedia article on Flip Teaching:
For Parents
Think of MOOCs as free tuition from some of the world’s best teachers. Help your kids identify the right MOOC – to supplement what they are learning in school, or encourage them to participate in a MOOC to gauge their interest in a particular discipline and make an informed choice about what they would like to pursue. For example, ask your children to watch introductory video lectures on psychology, or finance, or economics on sites like to make up their mind about what subjects to choose. You could also use MOOCs to learn what you always yearned for but didn’t because your formal education was about learning to earn and not about yearning to learn!
A very interesting 1988 interview of famous science fiction author, Issac Asimov, on his book “As Far as the Human Eye Could See” – he shares his thoughts on future of education (and we are now living this future):
For Knowledge Workers
Going has never been so good for self-directed, lifelong learners and it is only getting better. Introspect on how you learn best and then find out learning resources online that suit you most. Or, join a community of practice in your interest area. Or, start your own online learning community, curating MOOCs and other learning resources and catalyzing conversation and collaboration for a deeper learning experience. Such is the long tail of online learning that you can find fellow enthusiasts even in the most niche of topics.
Watch this 4-minute video – Success in a MOOC:
“A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know and to find those who want to learn it from them; and, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.” – Ivan Illich, author, Deschooling Society (1971)
“When it is time to die there’d be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well, that you had learnt as much as you could, gathered in as much of the universe, and enjoyed it. What a tragedy if you passed through and got nothing out of it.”
– Issac Asimov (in an interview with Bill Moyers)
Free Resources
A detailed presentation on becoming a Knowledge Sommelier – learn the art of curation in education:
A detailed presentation on augmenting the classroom by supplementing classroom teaching with online conversation and collaboration:
Good Website
A website about MOOCs:
TIME magazine issue on ‘Reinventing Education’ – you can read several articles online, including this one titled “College is Dead. Long Live College” –
Good Book
“The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined” by Sal Khan (Khan Academy)
In this book Sal shares his strategy for bringing – “a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere” and explains why he thinks technology will make classrooms more human and teachers more important. The book is available as an eBook on Amazon.
Good Video
In this six-minute TED talk Peter Norvig describes the learning from his experience of teaching 150,000 plus students:

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