What Is a MOOC?

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, take education out of the classroom and make classes from top-rated universities available for free to anyone who can connect to the Internet.

MOOCs are in their infancy, but their potential is huge. To some, MOOCs offer a glimpse of education’s future. But there are questions yet to be answered: Who will grade 100,000 papers? Can coursework completed through a MOOC earn the same credit as coursework undertaken on a campus?

Will Badges Replace Degrees?

Traditionally, employers have looked to university degrees to measure job candidates’ qualifications. MOOCs could change that.

The American Council on Education will review certain free online courses offered by elite universities and might recommend that other colleges give credit for them.

Some providers of MOOCs are bringing in revenue by selling information to employers about high-performing students who might be a good fit for jobs.

Coursera, the largest provider of MOOCs, has contracted to license courses to Antioch University, which would offer versions of the MOOCs for credit as part of a bachelor’s degree program.

Three MOOCs You Should Know

1. Sebastian Thrun, a computer-science professor at Stanford, and Peter Norvig, director of research at Google, offer a popular course on artificial intelligence through Udacity.

2. Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach is offered through Coursera. The number of students who completed Duke University’s first MOOC was more than 10 times the campus enrollment.

3. CS50x: Introduction to Computer Science is offered by edX. The traditional campus version of this class is Harvard’s largest course.

MOOCs by the Numbers

66% – Coursera students who are from outside the USA

190 – Number of countries represented in the 160,000 participants in Stanford University’s free online artificial-intelligence course in 2011

$895,000 – Amount the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave to the American Council on Education to test the viability of MOOCs for college-transfer credit

Former Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, a Harvard dropout, thinks MOOCs could help employers measure what you know, instead of where you went to school.

“The ideal would be to separate out the idea of proving your knowledge from the way you acquired that knowledge.” – Bill Gates

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