Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

I believe that within the next few years, online learning such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) will grow much bigger than today and will revolutionize the entire global education system. My reason is based on the simple “supply and demand” theory. MOOCs are opened to anyone with a computer and Internet access. People can attend these courses without paying anything. If they want to pay for a certificate of completion, it is still much cheaper than getting a degree from traditional schools. Most MOOC courses are taught by the best professors from top universities with up to date materials so students can benefit from learning the latest things that the job market demand. Students can learn MOOCs at their own pace as many may have to work to make a living and only have limited time to study. But in my opinion, the best thing is MOOCs can help train a lot of people in developing countries where the education system is obsolete or too slow to change.

Of course, MOOCs are NOT perfect, at least not yet. The majority of MOOCs are technical subjects, not because it does not have other subjects, but most students who attend MOOC courses only interest in learning technical subjects instead of others. My friends, who are teaching for Coursera, Udemy, and edX told me that 85% of students are taking technical courses such as Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Computer Programming, Cybersecurity, Internet of Things, Software Engineering, Mobile apps development. Each course draws over thousands of students all over the world.” Of course, technical courses are important because it helps people to get jobs. Due to the skills shortage, many technology companies such as Google, Apple, IBM etc. are hiring people with a certificate of completion from MOOCs to meet their demand.

While MOOCs offer many opportunities to people who need to develop skills to advance their careers, I do NOT think MOOCs will replace the traditional university, at least not yet. Students do NOT go to university ONLY for specific skills so they can get a job, but also enrich their knowledge in other subjects as well as experience the social aspects of the traditional school, where they meet people at the same age, develop a friendship, and growing and maturing into responsible adults. There are MOOC courses in history, literature, psychology, sociology, and arts (About 1350 courses) but the enrollment is very low as compared to technical courses (Over 8,650 courses.) When I inquire into this issue, my friend who taught history at edX explained: “If you are a student, would you spend 20 hours a week learning about Artificial Intelligence to get a job at Google or would you want to learn about the historical detail of the Roman empire?” Another friend added: “Today, there is a critical shortage of skilled workers all over the world. Even India and China do not have enough technical workers to support their growth. When Apple and Google announced that they are hiring workers with or without a college degree, my Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course jumped from 125 students to 2500 students within a month.”

I think soon MOOCs will grow much bigger, as more students are rushing to learn the latest skills that would give them the job at their dream companies. MOOCs is a significant improvement in education as it supplements the needs of many students but it is NOT a replacement for the traditional education system where knowledge enrichment and social interaction are established. In the past few years, I have seen many first-year students come to my classes with profound knowledge and did very well because they have taken MOOC courses before enrolling in college. Many of them come from foreign countries where the education is still too slow to change but these students are taking advantage of MOOCs to supplement their knowledge and prepare to do well at traditional schools. One student told me: “I already learned about Python and Java from MOOCs, I also have taken two Machine learning courses from Coursera (i.e, MOOCs) but I need to learn these subjects at a much deeper level to develop stronger skills so I can do well after graduation.” He is among a few well-prepared students for the rigorous work at Carnegie Mellon.

My advice to students who are planning to study overseas: “If possible, please take a few programming courses so you know how to code or speak another language from online education BEFORE going to study overseas. By being prepared you will be able to engage in a much deeper, more engaging discussions with others in technical courses so you will succeed in your education journey.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
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