The mob rules the classroom in massive open online courses

In Opinion

Face-to-face experience cannot be replaced by anything else. Not when it comes to dating, relationships or learning.

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have become popular with university students in recent years, but there is nothing better than face-to-face experience when it comes to learning.

Online courses, where students typically have no face-to-face meetings and 80 percent of the content or more is delivered online, might seem appealing because students don’t need to show up to class and because there is much more freedom. But this can turn around and bite you; in order to get full results out of anything, being face-to-face with an instructor is mandatory.

Think about it—would you get hired for a job position without a face-to-face interaction with the employer? I don’t think so. Would someone ask you out on a date without having met you face-to-face? I don’t think so, and if it has happened, I don’t think it lasted.

While MOOCs have existed for a while already—gaining attention and popularity in the media over the past year—most institutions seem unconvinced to jump on board.

“Only 2.6 percent of higher education institutions currently have a MOOC, another 9.4 percent report MOOCs are in the planning stages,” read a report called “Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States.”

“The majority of institutions (55.4 percent) report they are still undecided about MOOCs, while under one-third (32.7 percent) say they have no plans for a MOOC,” it said.

For academic leaders, teaching an online course requires more time and effort than teaching a face-to-face course and, additionally, the study reports the percent of academic leaders who believe as much has increased from 41.6 percent in 2006 to 44.6 percent this year.

“In addition to the lack of faculty acceptance, academic leaders express concerns about the need for more discipline on the part of online students and lower retention rates,” the report reads.

It’s simply not the same.

One needs to interact and be active. It’s a must to hear and see the instructors; look at their body language and facial expressions, at their visuals and the notes on the board. Those kinds of things, which might seem insignificant, make a big difference in the face-to-face learning experience of the student.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Richard A. McKenzie, a UC Irvine business school professor, stopped teaching midway through a massive online course. McKenzie’s action highlights the uncertainties faculty members face in adapting traditional face-to-face classes into the MOOCs.

Even though most people who are pursuing an education are computer literate, there is always some confusion when it comes to computers and programs. Did I do this right? Did I click the right button? Did the process go through? Taking an online course might be more complicated than expected.

If you have a question, its not as if you can raise your hand and the computer will ask you if you have a question. It’s not like you can visit your professor during his or her office hours in between your classes. When taking an online course, its more difficult to get a hold of the professor to get your question answered.

The LA Times reported that one of McKenzie’s main concerns was getting students to buy and, more than that, actually read the textbook for his course. Most certainly, this is impossible to do in a massive online course. This goes along with the Changing Course study which also found that apart from the lack of faculty acceptance, academic leaders express concerns about the need for more discipline on the on the part of online students, as retention rates were lower.

In addition to the interaction with the professor and the classmates, it’s really easy to fall behind in an online course since students never have to show up and no one is taking roll. In such conditions it’s really easy to procrastinate and forget about the course, which can result in a low grade or failing the course. In a blink of an eye, the progression of the course can change.

Despite the fact that such classes seem to be only gaining popularity with students, perhaps it is time to take a step back and take a closer look at these negatives before we accept online courses like MOOCs as the future of education.

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