Many in the education and business worlds have their eyes on mechanical MOOCs, or courses assembled from the open Web and provided free to anyone with Internet access. MOOCs blend content, community, and assessment tools from many open-learning sites into online courses that can serve thousands of students at once.
Two prominent MOOC players, Coursera and edX, each financed by a different group of prestigious U.S. universities, currently offer online materials broken into manageable chunks, with short video segments, interactive quizzes and other activities — as well as online forums where students answer one another’s questions and grade each other’s work.
A typical course is “A Gentle Introduction to Python” (a computer programming language), which combines content from MIT’s OpenCourseWare, instant-feedback exercises and quizzes from Codecademy, and study groups organized by OpenStudy. The course is coordinated through an email list operated by Peer2Peer University.
Because of technological advances — including the improved quality of online learning delivery platforms, the ability to offer a choice of learning paths, and the capacity to analyze huge numbers of student experiences to see which approach works best — some believe that MOOCs are likely to be an education game-changer, opening higher education to hundreds of millions of people.
Those factors might also make MOOCs suitable for certain kinds of corporate education where the power of the Internet can be leveraged to create and deliver courses for large numbers of learners faster and more cheaply than in the past. Advances in cloud computing, which make data storage and computer server time more affordable and accessible, may also contribute to the proliferation of new online learning models. Some speculate that Amazon, through its Web Services Division, could reshape access to computing power the way it reshaped book publishing and retail. And that, in turn, is bound to affect the business of learning.