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The MOOCs Are Here!

September 3, 2012

I consider myself a life-long learner. I have no particular interest in another advanced degree, but I love to continue learning about what interests me. So I am excited that the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are beginning to show up. But not just for me. University courses are becoming outrageously expensive. There are grave doubts about the ROI for degrees from famous universities and much concern over debt service for those degrees. The promise of “work hard, study hard, get good grades and you will land a nice, high paying job” is obviously no longer true for many students. So I am also excited for learners everywhere.

Learning through technology

This relatively new movement serves citizens in a couple of ways. We are building on the new way of learning which started more or less with the advent of the Kahn Academy. Children who grew up with access to the Khan Academy found it easy to learn concepts that they somehow missed in school. Don’t know how to do that math problem? Go to the Academy and keep working on it until you get the concept. As these children move through the education system, they expect to be able to learn on-line. It is instinctual for them.

Universities have been putting course material on-line for years. Yet, we are just now learning how we can scale up education simply and relatively inexpensively. In a March 2012 article in the New York Times, the reader is asked to:

Consider Stanford’s experience: Last fall, 160,000 students in 190 countries enrolled in an Artificial Intelligence course taught by Mr. Thrun and Peter Norvig, a Google colleague. An additional 200 registered for the course on campus, but a few weeks into the semester, attendance at Stanford dwindled to about 30, as those who had the option of seeing their professors in person decided they preferred the online videos, with their simple views of a hand holding a pen, working through the problems.

Obviously, it is time to rethink how we deliver education. We can multiply the reach of top professors. We can get over the challenge of over-crowded classrooms. We can more easily expect employees to keep up to date in technical fields, latest research and challenging leadership concepts.

Personally, I found The Great Courses not too long ago. Through them I have been able to delve into the worlds of neuroscience, psychology and writing without having to drive to a campus. Instead, I have courses on DVDs that I can watch when I’m rested (for me that’s early in the morning) and I can learn at my own pace.

Technology is forcing our hand. We need to rethink how we deliver education. As business people, we need to be looking forward to how we might take advantage of this new development as well as those which will surely follow. As citizens, we might even expect more of our fellow citizens when it comes to the history of our country!

It has been said that “good leaders are good readers.” I would be broader in that statement; good leaders are learners for life. They have insatiable curiosity.

PS: I was contacted by the Online School Organization and they offered a chance to link to a pretty nice graphic they’ve developed on how the MOOCs will make money. You can find it at this post.