669: Classy

Sometime between 2006 and 2011, an idea started to filter up through the morass of information that was and is the internet — offering online college classes — for free — to anyone who wanted to take them. Now called Massive Open Online Classes, MOOCs, these courses offer what may have been previously unavailable without significant resources to anyone with the time, internet access, and language skills to engage with them.

Now, online learning is considered an entirely normal part of the learning landscape. And there’s opportunities for everything from free courses to full-cost (in other words, hella expensive) college courses. There’s freemium models, pay-as-you-go models, types that give you certificates, and types that are entirely for your own use.

Whatever the model is, the information is out there, for almost anything you want to learn; even for things that you probably would at some point want hands-on experience with. For example… the online courses.

But – is this truly the democratization of all information and learning? Maybe – and maybe not. Depending on how you measure the statistics, many of these MOOCs have completion rates between 7 and 22 percent. Up to half of the people that sign up for the courses — or even purchase them if they’re not taking free courses — never take even the first lesson. This has been called a structural challenge of the format, and some consider it a deal-killer.

As Amy Ahern wrote in EdSurge, quote:

The MOOC movement is frequently disparaged because completion rates are abysmally low. HarvardX and MITx recently reported that only 5.5% of people who enroll in one of their open online courses earn a certificate. Yet, critics infrequently stop and think about who these 5.5% of people are. If you dig into their stories, you start to find the innovative social entrepreneurs from Pakistan, the dedicated teachers in Cambodia, and the tenacious single mothers in the U.S. completing their degrees. If I were an employer, admissions counselor, or philanthropist trying to decide who to invest my resources in, these are the kind of people I’d want to find and place my bets on. Of course, we should recognize that introducing online courses into our selection processes will favor people who enjoy other privileges—stable home environments, higher incomes, prior education, and many other things. But it allows us to better evaluate people on actual behavior, rather than just what they state they can do in an interview or the degrees they list on their resume.

In other words, if there’s a class out there you want to take, some version of it is likely available in a free or low-cost model. If that’s the best way to take it, of course, is a whole other topic of discussion.