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MOOC. Massive Open Online Course. Although some think this funny-sounding acronym marks the beginning of an educational revolution, others believe it’s just another impulsive trend liable to fizzle out faster than the nation’s brief infatuation with Silly Bands.

So let’s take a deeper look at what exactly a MOOC’s ultimate purpose is.
Although MOOCs have been around for a couple years, the idea truly began to generate interest in 2012. Essentially, a MOOC is an online course that anyone with an Internet connection can attend for free.

Many educational institutions are jumping onboard, including IU. Curt Bonk, professor of instructional systems technology, developed and taught a May 2012 MOOC about teaching online for a company that specializes in organizing online courses.

The popularity of this free online educational is growing rapidly, as elite universities continue to partner with Coursera, a primary player in the MOOC boom.

In fact, courses are now offered on the site from 33 of the most prestigious post-secondary education institutions, including Princeton, Brown, Columbia and Duke.
A free college-level course? Affiliations with big name schools? Perhaps that sounds too good to be true.

Here’s the catch. In most cases, course completion does not award the participant any tangible course credit. This structure demonstrates an immense potential flaw. It lacks motivating incentive.

Recently, Tucker Balch, a Georgia Institute of Technology professor who recently created and taught a MOOC, admitted that out of all the students who enrolled, only 4.8 percent completed the entire course.

Because participants are neither required to pay to enroll in a MOOC nor offered academic course credits for actually following through with all of the coursework, a sense of commitment is absent.

Completion rates plummet once the excitement provoked by the word “free” inevitably passes. We should know better. Nothing in the world is truly free.

Viewing the MOOC concept from a cost-benefit analysis perspective, participants are offered the benefits of free education and knowledge. But these benefits come at the cost of lost time and no academic credit.

Does the thought of enrolling in courses similar to these and being able to don your pajama pants while learning appeal to you? If you really think about it, half of the IU student population attends traditional on-campus classes in their pajamas anyways.

So, let’s frame this question in another way. Are you interested in taking advantage of increasing your knowledge base for no monetary expenditure? Hopefully, your answer is yes.

MOOCs have the potential to provide invaluable complementary knowledge without depleting monetary resources that college students depend on to, well, survive. The key word, however, is “complementary.”

MOOCs will never become a substitute for traditional education. Peer interaction and face-to-face learning, although maybe not the most convenient, are definitely the most effective components of academic learning.

College students need experience, experience that can only be gained in the surrounding environment, outside of the security of their dorm room and unexplainably comfortable twin bed.

MOOCs may serve as a great tool for those who have already graduated college, those who simply do not have time to return to the university setting and those of us who can never slake our thirst for knowledge.

But MOOCs should not be viewed as a necessary escape from the classroom or the future face of education.

So go ahead, enroll in a MOOC, but if your only motivation is to avoid slipping into some jeans in the morning, just remember that you can wear pajamas in the classroom, too. As long as you’re learning, you’ve earned it.

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