“The Era of the Digital Degree”

It is the era of digital learning ushered in by the growing popularity of MOOCs; your very own gateway to quality and inexpensive learning. With the digital genie reworking all the traditional learning models, the learners today have everything to gain. One of these many digital wonders is the Massive Open Online Course, or simply, a MOOC.

WHAT IS IT?

For a learner, MOOC is an opportunity to learn from some of the brightest minds of our times, and access learning materials from all the premier academic institutions around the world including Harvard, MIT, IIT and more. These courses are offered with or without a nominal fee, and are often recordings of in-house lectures, giving the distant learner a peek into the classroom environment of the big-wigs in education. With regular assignments, quizzes and active forums, MOOCs are structured as excellent introductory lessons on any given subject and are playing out a leading role in the online learning revolution.

WHO NEEDS IT AND WHY?

At a time, when the obstacles separating a learner and his/her dream school are not merely financial, free quality education can work wonders for students around the world, who come from every walk of life. From high-school students to mid-career professionals, MOOCs serve to quench the curiosity of everyone who wishes to learn. The vacuum of accessible quality education is acutely felt, especially in a country like India where the student-teacher ratio is despairingly low and the crux of learning rests on memorized facts.

The Pros

• No pre-requisites: Fascinated by Physics but fearful of Calculus? Don’t worry. Being introductory in nature, MOOCs are designed keeping in mind a first time learner who has just begun exploring the subject.
• No set schedule: MOOCs are self-paced learning tools that allow the learner to take as much time as needed to understand and explore a concept before moving on.
• Minimal or no fee: These online courses are provided free of cost along with open access to all the necessary study materials. A fee might be charged for verified and signed certificates.
• Non-traditional Approach: Students learn as much from video lectures and assignments as they do from active discussions on forums attended by professors, students and professionals alike.

The Cons

• Not recognized: These courses do not carry the same value as that of on-campus learning. MOOCs are focused more on leisure learning than career development.
• Not accepted as college credits: Generally, MOOC certification does not qualify as extra college credits and as a result, cannot replace hands-on learning on campus.
• Not unique: Being introductory level courses, MOOCs are fairly simple to ace. And with the number of students having the same certification, counting up to tens of thousands, the achievement tends to lose its value.
• Not good enough: There is only so much that can be covered in a course designed as a mere introduction to a subject. You constantly feel the need to go back to other, more traditional sources for in-depth learning.

One of the biggest and most popular names in the MOOC industry today, is COURSERA. With over 5 million students, 500+ courses and 100+ partner universities, COURSERA has become a vital appendage to online learning. Its latest feature, known as Signature Track, allows learners to earn themselves a verified certificate linked to their identity for the COURSERA courses they complete.
Another well-known online classroom is EdX which works on a similar model as that of Coursera. From Architecture to Business to Computer Science, EdX offers an impressive range of courses segregated into types to suit the various levels of learning, ranging from high-school to professional education. A special series of courses known as the XSeries, allows learners to specialize in a given subject by successfully completing a series of related courses under it.
Many universities including Stanford, MIT, Yale and more, have also come forward with their own online learning programs which learners can access directly from the institution’s website.

So, while MOOCs might seem to have limited practical value, the digital certification nonetheless, confirms your interest in a subject or a set of skills and more often than not, lends your candidate profile, a significantly positive appeal. Quite simply, digital learning is a trend that is here to stay.

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