Logophiles everywhere relished in the 2012 Word of the Year announcement made by Oxford American Dictionaries last week. While the word of the year may not seem revolutionary to some, one word on Oxford’s runner up list, MOOC (massive open online course), speaks to a booming new trend in higher education. MOOCs, free college-level online courses open to all, have been around in one form or another for a few years at least, but innovative new companies like Coursera, edX and Udacity are largely responsible for an explosive newfound popularity now seen domestically and abroad in what The New York Times is calling “The Year of the MOOC.”
In fact, it is growing international enrollment that has MOOCs making headlines. For example, California-based Coursera, an online platform offering free classes from universities such as Princeton, Duke and Stanford, recently hit 1 million enrolled students, 61.5% of whom are from outside the US. MIT Technology Review’s latest Business Report chronicles the opportunities MOOCs are creating for hungry students and idealistic educators-gone-rogue in more economically depressed regions of the world. Conversely, the report explores the threat MOOCs present to the value provided by diverse perspectives and educational backgrounds within the international academic landscape.
MOOCs do have optimistic supporters in philanthropic giant The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which just announced more than $3 million in grants awarded to MOOCs, specifically citing the need for more accessible postsecondary education in the US as part of their rationale for the new investments. In answer to MOOC critics concerned about the integrity of existing education models, The Gates Foundation also announced approximately $250,000 in research funds to aid in making MOOCs more effective learning platforms with a goal of helping “talented, committed faculty members improve their practice.” No matter what side of the debate you’re on, with backers like The Gates Foundation, MOOCs have staying power and may change the face of higher education as we know it.