Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Disruptive Change or 21st Century Innovation?

In recent years, a global increase in access to the Internet coupled with a demand for quality and affordable higher education and a willingness on the part of faculty at some international higher education institutions (HEIs) to experiment with Web 2.0 tools and concepts has resulted in the substantial growth of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The growth in these courses is driven primarily by issues of cost and access, as outlined by Cathy N. Davidson in her article ‘Are MOOCs Really the Future of the University?’. In parts of the developing world, in particular countries in Africa, an already-existing skills shortage is exacerbated by limited access to HEIs and the sometimes prohibitive cost of obtaining a degree. In contexts such as these, MOOCs have been proposed as a potential solution. However, the utopian vision put forward by proponents of the system – free, quality education delivered online – is countered by anxiety from some faculty members at HEIs, focused predominantly on what this would mean for the traditional university system.

What is a MOOC?

What then, differentiates MOOCs from the online learning already practiced by many HEIs in South Africa? MOOCs are ‘massive’ – some courses have enrolments of over 100,000 students – and are ‘open’ in the sense that anyone can register to attend the course (often without paying any fees). A recent webinar presented by Paul Stacey discussed ‘The Pedagogy of MOOCs’ and provided a history of the MOOC movement. Stacey explained that the cMOOCs were the first iteration of this courseware and focused on “knowledge creation and generation rather than knowledge duplication” (Stacey, 2013). These MOOCs were experiments in pedagogy as well as courses but although interesting in their own right failed to receive the enrolments and recognition that later MOOCs have.

Read more