Massive Open Online Courses: The future of education?

MOOC’s, short for Massive Open Online Courses, are a real trend these days. With costs of education rising in countries like the US, UK and even the Netherlands, alternatives are gaining in popularity.

What is a MOOC?

There are several aspects that define online courses to be actual MOOC’s. Firstly, they are Massive, with some of the most popular courses guiding 100.000+ students. The first massive course was Stanford’s artificial intelligence course in 2011 with 150.000 students! More defining are that these courses are online and open for everyone. Even though some of the courses ask a fee for a verified certificate with your name on it, the basic learning is free and everything is accessible.

Biggest players in the industry

The biggest platforms are Coursera, edX and Udacity, each with small distinguishing differences from each other. edX, originally setup by MIT and Harvard,  partners mostly with universities that offer some of their courses on the platform. Coursera also uses this strategy, but offers most courses in the form of a specialization. This way courses / specializations are split up into smaller subcourses, which you are encouraged to take all but also gives you the option to only take on the areas of study you’re interested in most. Udacity offers courses build by companies instead of traditional educational institutes. This way the education is most similar to what is needed by these industry leading companies like Google, Facebook and AT&T.

There are also smaller players like Udemy and Skillshare, who will let anyone start a course and offer it to anyone who is interested. This seems most applicable to smaller courses and learning of skills like playing a music instrument and such.

The drawbacks

So this all seems pretty great right; free learning for everyone. There must be some drawbacks. Well, yes, there are some. Although the (massive) amount of enrolled students is huge, the percentage of completion is only about 15% on average. So that’s quite low. The percentage can be explained in multiple ways. For one, the courses can be really hard. Certainly most of the courses that are provided by universities on edX and Coursera are of outstanding quality, and following the course might be as exhaustive as following the course at the actual university. This also explains why about 79% to 86% of MOOC students are students that already have a college degree.

Second, and this might reduce the negativity of the 15% completion rate, students only use parts of the courses which helps them understand the subject better or perform better at work. So they don’t have a need to complete the actual course or to gather the certificates.

Another drawback of the MOOC is that it’s sensitive to fraude. These educational platforms are not able to check with 100% certainty that the person following the course is actually providing the answers instead of copying them from classmates or the internet.


As long as you use it how it’s intended enrolling a MOOC can be an excellent addition to your eduction. Also the ease-of-use is a big improvement over traditional education in my book. I do believe traditional education still has the biggest place in the world of education, but using MOOC’s to widen your interests and extend your knowledge seems to complement this traditional education perfectly. Possibly the future holds an interaction between the two, where students get a basic programme at their university, which they can complement themselves with online courses for which they receive credit as well.



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