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Posted by on Aug 18, 2015 in Higher Education, MOOCs | 8 comments

Reactions to MOOCs in Higher Education

Reactions to MOOCs in Higher Education


In many circles as soon as one mentions the word MOOCs, lines of division get immediately drawn and opinions are divided along 2 opposite ends of the spectrum. The typical views range from those who believe in MOOCs and those who are completely against MOOCs, and thus this often creates a somewhat limited space for discussion and engagement. One thing is certain; MOOCs challenge universities’ conventional societal roles as the ‘sole providers’ of knowledge and credentials.

Others make claims that MOOCs do not change the status quo of Higher Education (HE) instead they are in a league of their own as they are playing a different game entirely. Therefore rather than argue for or against a single perspective on MOOCs, my proposition is that it may be useful to imagine their potential.

For example most MOOCs are guided by the principles and ethos of inclusion, mass participation, collaboration in generating knowledge and distributed expertise for those who pitch in. Unlike in the classroom were most learning is teacher-centred, in a MOOC environment the idea is that there is peer to peer sharing to develop autonomous channels of information flow and this removes the typical notion of top-down information flow from the expert usually the university professor to the students.

Nonetheless MOOCs. in many developing contexts such as South Africa, continue to face many challenges and do not necessarily increase ‘access’ to education for many disadvantaged people. Hence thus far MOOCs are reported to have a very low completion rate and this is due to various reasons. A recent qualitative study by Miligan, Margaryan, and Littlejohn (2013) suggests that confidence, prior experience in a MOOC were important determinants of engagement in a MOOC. Some students find the MOOC environment frustrating because they do not see the inherent value of learning through the network. This suggests that open access to education has many challenges and pedagogical practices of MOOCs need to be further investigated for a better understanding of how a positive learning experience can be created.  Moreover access to learning technology, adequate infrastructure, language and cultural backgrounds continue to pose challenges for MOOCs.

However I believe that a completely different way of thinking about education is necessary for succeeding in a MOOC environment, in other words there is a need to imagine MOOCs as an entirely new learning experience that should not be compared to learning in the traditional classroom.


  1. I really like the way you advocate for the MOOC validity debate to die down. I agree with you that it is important to for us to fcus our energy on exploring the MOOCs potential,sustainability etc… Do you agree with the statement that “they are in their league of their own”? If so can you expand what that means?

    • Thanks Fred for the question. I imagine that MOOCs or at least as far as I understand their philosophy they can be seen as being on a league of their own. They encourage us to imagine ‘the business of learning’ differently. So far what I have read suggests (sometimes explicity and sometimes one has to read in between the lines) that we need to think of MOOCs as offering something different comapred to our usual university learning experiences hence a different mindset is needed when one decides to venture into this territory. For example you need to know that when you come into a MOOC environment you will be challenged differently as compared to a classroom setting. First we come to MOOCs as contributers of knowledge, which on its own as idea that we don’t hear a lot about on your first day at a course in university.

  2. This has been a pleasure to read. You touched on what I have always had on my mind. Thankyou for a blanced view on the issue of MOOCs & their importance. Do you think MOOCs solve any problems (if there are any) posed by professor centered learning?

    • Hey David briiliant question although I am not sure if challenges posed by professor centred learning can be solved by MOOCs honestly. I mean MOOCs is still figuring out some of the best teaching and learning practices for its environment, as such we can’t depend on it to solve issues that come with top-down teaching pedagogies for a classroom environment. I do however know that there are many theories and pedagogies that can now be used to disperse power in the classroom so that teaching is not seen as the ‘mighty professors’s’ territory only but a space where learners too can contribute to their own learning.

  3. Memory, I agree with you that MOOC’s is not addressing the educational needs of disadvantaged people because many of them do not have internet-access and another challenge is that they lack the skills to do so.

  4. Thanks Memory, very enlightening. I continuously read blogs that say that more investigations are needed within the MOOCs arena (without any further explanation). Can you expand further in which MOOC areas do we need to be investigating?

    • Hi Martha thabks very much for the feedback. For instance a very big area of investigation right now is understanding the low completion rate of people who enrol for courses in MOOCs and also the challenges that students generally experience with a MOOC course. So far there is limited knowledge about the frustrations that are experienced by those who start a course on MOOC and never finish it, or even those who do eventually finish the course little is known about the daily challenges they experienced and how they managed to overcome them.

  5. MOOC’s is a broad area to research. Memory, you mentioned an interesting topic – Why so many people do not complete a course.


  1. Assessing the Threats MOOCs Pose to South African Higher Education | Teaching and Learning Forum - […] Mphaphuli Reactions to MOOCs in Higher Education […]

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