Online education: the massive debate

By Sarah-Anne Arnold

The internet is not just an information highway. It’s an education highway with endless lanes and almost unlimited (and free) resources on everything from artificial intelligence to creating a start-up for students to drive their own learning.

That’s why they’re called Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs. A massive number of people sign up. But a massive number don’t finish what they start. Educational researcher Katy Jordan is investigating MOOC completion for her PhD at the Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology. Here’s what Katy says:

50 000 students enroll for the average MOOC (although enrollment numbers can reach up to 180 000)

BUT fewer than 5 000 usually complete the course (completion can approach 20%, but on average it’s as low as 7.5%)

These are not great odds. That said, 5 000 students is nothing to sniff at – it’s 20% of the students enrolled at the University of Cape Town, but all on one course. According to the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report 2013, MOOCs are the technology trend of the year. So online learning clearly has a place in our educational future, even though MOOCs are still getting mixed reviews.

In February 2013, The Chronicle of Higher Education sent an online survey to 184 professors who have taught MOOCs. From the 103 responses received, they report that a prof typically spends over 100 hours recording lectures and preparing for a course, and then eight to 10 hours a week running it. That’s a big investment of energy, time, manpower and therefore money. Do they think it’s worth it? Once again the answers are mixed:


Inside | Sarah-Anne Arnold

Sarah-Anne Arnold

Sarah-Anne Arnold is the Manager of the Solution Space at University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business . In 2011, she completed an MBA at the UCT Graduate School of Business, with a thesis on Innovation Adoption in Higher Education. She’s also been a graphic designer, a lecturer and a volunteer on an expedition to live and work in the jungles of Borneo. In no particular order.



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