Learning online?

I few weeks ago I signed up for my first MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) on the Coursera webpage: E-learning and Digital Cultures. And it is massive indeed – I will have a little over 40 000 classmates! Quite a lot for five instructors to handle, don’t you think?

The idea of MOOCs has really taken off in the last couple of years and the offers are increasing. Yet the functioning of these courses is the exact opposite to what has been established as the most effective method of learning, namely, working in small groups with intense personal contact between the teachers and the students. On the other hand, taking an online course is much more flexible than taking a class face-to-face as one can do it when they have the time, at their own pace and from every corner of the world (e.g. see the course map). So what are the advantages and drawbacks of MOOCs and online education in general? Here’s my list of top five of each.

The benefits

  1. Accessibility: only 10% of the world’s student population is mobile but with online education one does not need to move to a different town or to a different country to benefit from an education program, and this makes it more open to the general population;
  2. Flexibility: the students can choose what to do and when, work in their own pace, and focus on the aspects that are the most interesting for them;
  3. Interactivity: the format of the courses allows for direct engagement with the course topic and the students have plenty of opportunities to interact with one another;
  4. Low costs for the universities: setting up an online course is fairly cheap for the universities and, as opposed to dealing with incoming foreign students, they do not need to deal with the academic and social integration of the students;
  5. Low costs for the students: the MOOCs are usually free and, as put by Wikipedia, require only an internet connection.

The challenges

  1. Exclusivity: the people who choose to study via the new technologies are likely to be more educated, more resourceful and have a higher computer-literacy than the average population;
  2. Language: the majority of the online courses are in English and therefore require a good command of what is to many a foreign language;
  3. Motivation: the fact that the courses are flexible also means that successful learning is largely dependent on the self-motivation and self-regulation of students;
  4. Lack of controllability: as the number of course participants is very high it is difficult to evaluate the individual learning outcomes;
  5. Participation: the activity level of participants differs significantly – while some are very active and take on leadership roles the majority are lurkers, i.e., do not participate actively.

Photo credit: adesigna (Flickr Creative Commons)



  1. I like the layout of the arguments and its so true!

  2. […] one of my last posts I mentioned self-motivation among the five challenges of successful learning online. The ability […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: