On a lazy Sunday afternoon, a nice movie on television beckons. However, Achilles is calling too, from the lines of the immortal Iliad! Enrolled in a course on ancient Greek heroes being run by Harvard University on the Edx platform, I have in the past year discovered the pleasure of knowledge. MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses were forecasted as game changers in education. A lot has been written about them, and the numbers seem to fulfill the prophecy. For people like me, having completed formal education years ago, MOOCs offer a chance. To quench curiosity, a thirst for knowledge with the freedom to choose what you want to know about. All in a structured format, from established institutions, at your own pace and time and mostly free!
The numbers are mind boggling. According to Class Central, a MOOC aggregator, the total number of students who signed up for at least one course crossed 35 million in 2015. This figure has been reached in just four years, with the first three MOOCs being launched by Stanford University in 2011. Courses are offered currently in 16 languages! Majority of the students enrolled are young, however the cohort of forty plus is growing on major providers like Edx, Coursera, Canvas network etc.
India announced the launch of “Swayam” its own MOOC platform in 2014. Currently Swayam offers courses through the open Edx platform, and has an ambitious rollout lined up. Established MOOC platforms are now offering their own degree programs like X Series of Edx and Nanodegrees of Udacity, and in the process building their own business models.
Never having studied philosophy being a student of commerce and law, I decided to look for some courses after reading and hearing a lot about MOOCs in 2013. I found a course tantalizingly called ‘Ideas of the 20th Century’ and enrolled for it. Like with many new fangled online ideas, I never found the time to go through it. I forgot I had enrolled, despite being regularly reminded on email. When I tried to go through the course – the new format, the impersonal nature, the need for being self-driven, got the better of me. However, the idea and curiosity had been ignited, and floated around like a wisp of a cloud. I returned to the platform in 2015 and became one of the 15 million students. Since then it has been an engaging journey.
From philosophical underpinnings of critical thinking to Greek heroes to cosmology, I found myself delving into and enjoying areas of knowledge that I had wondered about. After completing a PhD in formal education, I find this phase of education of choice most enthralling. I look forward to my weekly forays before the screen, listening to professors, participating in discussions and trying to solve the questions at the end of each unit. Once I became familiar with the format, a thirst for knowledge became the driving force.
While traversing the knowledge canvas, MOOCs have also given me the opportunity to straddle the globe in learning. American professors are extremely analytical, with research backing their every utterance; they remain largely confined to a stage as they deliver their lectures, with a PPT to assist! The Australian professors, on the other hand, are engaging. The courses are interactive and imaginative, the instructors play act, move around in gardens and cafes. Their English diction is easier on the ear as compared to the Americans. The British, well they are staid and regular!
In one of the courses on the science of happiness, the course had opened a Facebook page for the students enrolled. 53000 students from 191 countries were participating. India had the second highest enrolment after USA. The interaction on the Facebook page was fascinating, with diverse people from different cultures and backgrounds finding the same reasons for happiness!
Most of the courses on offer run from about four weeks upwards. When I am close to finishing a course, I search the platforms for any new interesting upcoming courses. I have observed that over the past year the number of courses on technology and business is growing. Although, humanities and arts still have a fair share.
Courses on China – its growth, history, language and culture are many on all platforms. India on the other hand is missing as an object of study in the MOOC world. You can learn Mandarin in a MOOC course, but no Indian language is on offer. This is when till July 2015 India was the second largest market after USA for the biggest platform Coursera. It is now the third, after USA and China.
Whether MOOCs emerge as game changers or alternate education providers is for researchers. For people like me, who have completed their education long ago, have some time on their hands, have a thirst for knowledge and learning, and have managed to keep their curiosity alive, MOOCs are a sea of offerings. Much like Odysseus’s journey, there is variety and the call of different muses. There exists so much in the world to explore, know and rejoice about!