Vise Review: Is Coursera The Future of MOOCs or a Huge Waste of Time?

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In the modern economy, rising tuition costs can often make it difficult for people with lower incomes to attend college.  Higher education is quickly becoming a luxury that only an elite few can afford.  Online courses help curb financial dilemmas and allow more people to get the education they need to excel in life, but even then the cost can simply be too much.  Luckily, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) make it possible for people to get online education and specialized training.

Coursera, one of the newest and fastest growing MOOCs, is a unique website that offers a personalized online classroom experience with absolutely no cost.  Coursera is partnered with over eighty universities across the world to deliver a wide range of classes in a variety of topics including the arts, finances, and sciences.  Upon completion, you will receive a certification verifying that you completed the course and are knowledgeable in the given field.

The process is pretty simple. You create your free account, download the course syllabus,  watch the lecture videos and complete the required assignments.  Most of your work is evaluated through peer reviews, which could possibly lead to more personal and applicable results.

There are pros and cons to the MOOC approach to education.  Many studies have been conducted, and most come to the conclusion that online education is beneficial to students.  According to WorldWideLearn’s site, online courses offer students a flexible schedule, encourage more interactions, and give students more time to absorb and understand the material.  Coursera nails the last point perfectly by allowing students to work at their own pace.  Coursera also lets students linger on assignments until they fully understand the material before moving on to more difficult topics.

However, with every good thing, there is also bad.  According to teachthought.com, the peer review system needs a lot of work.  The reviewers are held to no particular standard, so reviews vary from being thorough and informative, to “…sometimes flat out sadistic…”  Also according to TeachThought, plagiarism is rampant on Coursera.  With the anonymous peer reviews, it is simple for others to steal work and pass it off as their own.  It is a problem that will severely damage the site’s name if it is not contained and properly addressed.

There are also growing concerns about the level of professor involvement on Coursera, as well as its actual real-world applications.  According to one particular blog post, it would seem that some professors are not directly involved in the Coursera process and have no idea what content is posted in their name. If this problem persists, many won’t take the courses seriously, nor should they.  Professor involvement is paramount to Coursera’s success.  There is also a question of the courses’ actual value.  The courses are not accredited, so it certainly can’t count towards any degree.  The certifications would certainly add to a resume, but they could not possibly replace a real diploma.  But, if the only thing lost is time that may not be such a bad thing.

If one were to approach Coursera, they should do so with an open mind.  The MOOC system hasn’t been perfected yet, nor will it be for quite some time.  But, if you are looking to broaden your horizons, or just brush up on some skills, Coursera may be an excellent and inexpensive solution.  However, if you are hoping for a real degree, you may have to bite the bullet and try out an actual university, as Coursera and other MOOCs will not meet your needs.

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