MOOCs and how they will change the world

You most likely are already familiar with MOOCs, that very unsexy acronym for an education revolution that will probably affect your life, and will certainly affect the lives of your children. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, and basically it means free education for anyone with an Internet connection. About anything you want. All you need to do is find the time.

Obviously, online education is not the same as a university degree (at least not for now), just as Facebook is not the same as a social life (and may that always be the case). But, it does put your education completely in your hands. No more watching helplessly as companies shift and downsize and outsource. Anticipate. Participate. Re-educate.


According to Jeff Jarvis, the director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of the New York Graduate School of Journalism: “The real need for education in the economy will be re-education.” This is especially relevant for anyone over 25. You’ve most likely already had an education, probably even a university degree or equivalent. But now you want more, maybe because you feel you need to for economic reasons (job change, career shift, skill reinforcement), or because you want to know more about history, science or culture… Or because you’re just plain curious and you love learning.

Now, online learning is nothing new, but the scope of what is available now has not been seen before. The breadth of choice is amazing! And the number of platforms is growing all the time. Coursera is just one example of the many MOOC platforms, and it offers online courses from over 100 universities, including Stanford, Princeton, Yale… It has 7 million students, enrolled in over 600 courses ranging from Astrophysics to the music of the Beatles. FutureLearn is part of Open University, the pioneer of online education (I remember watching Open Univeristy programs on TV when I was a little girl living in London, and believe me, that was a long time ago!), and has partnerships with over 25 UK institutions, including The British Museum. edX offers free online courses from such renowned institutions as MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and many more, from all over the world!

moocs examples

Let me show you some really cool examples, just in case you thought that MOOCs were only for technical people (I’m not recommending these, I haven’t taken them, I’m just saying that they sound like a lot of fun and are definitely on my wish list):

“The Fiction of Relationship”, from Brown University, about how literature and art portray how we relate to others;

“Imagining other earths”, from Princeton University, in which you learn how to design a solar system;

“Music’s Big Bang: the Genesis of Rock and Roll”, from the University of Florida, in which I imagine it’s ok to wiggle your hips;

“The Science of Irrational Behaviour”, from Duke University, about why we care about some things and not others…

In two weeks I start one called Technology and Ethics, and then I have Understanding Media by Understanding Google to look forward to. I feel like a university student again, and what I wouldn’t give to have more hours in the day… I introduced a good friend to MOOCs the other day, and he hasn’t forgiven me yet. It really is like a free candy bar for adults with curiosity.

“But where’s the business model?” I hear you ask. I’ll go into this more in another post, because there’s so much to say about it, today I just want to gush a bit about what moocs mean for us and for the next generation.

impact of moocs

Hal Varian, the chief economist at Google, said recently: “The biggest impact on the world will be universal access to all human knowledge.” Just think what that can do. A world of better educated people, smarter people, getting new skills or studying things they are passionate about, talking to other people who are passionate about the same things, on the other side of the world. Coming up with new ideas together, new inventions, new concepts. Getting jobs. No matter what you think about the current state of the education system where you’re from, nobody can deny that education generates wealth. It’s not just that better education leads to more innovation which leads to more jobs which helps economic recovery. It’s also the potential of collective ideas. Combine a smarter world with the power of crowdsourcing, and you have incredible brain power solving big problems.

the impact of moocs(photo by Chiara Goia for The New York Times)

One of the first people to get a perfect score in MIT’s online Circuits and Electronics course was Battushig Myanganbayar, a 15-year-old boy from Ulan Bator in Mongolia. This boy is now enrolled as an undergraduate at MIT, and his ambition, he says, is to “make good things for humans.” Now imagine many more gifted individuals like Battushig, all getting access to an education their parents never dreamed of, for the cost of an Internet connection. And imagine his peers, from all over the world, putting their considerable intelligence to work on innovation, creativity and the problem-solving that this planet needs. Good things for humans, indeed.


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For more on online education, check out my Flipboard “Internet and Education”:

flipboard education

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