MOOCs: the Virtual Classrooms Failed to Be the Education Equalizer We Hoped For


In the early 2010s, we saw a dawn of something revolutionary in education. MOOCs or massive open online courses were born. Science Daily defined MOOCs as "popular with educational establishments as an efficient way to deliver their materials." Education advocates and teachers alike were enthusiastic about bringing education to everyone, sadly what research reveal is that MOOC programs haven't performed as promised.

This is not about the MOOC facilities not having the right materials or being unprepared, studies show that students and learners are the one who fail to take advantage of the various education opportunities and learning courses available online.

The Atlantic reports that now, more than ever, more Americans have decent access to the internet and citing census data, it is identified that 99% f them are between the ages of 18 to 29. Researchers attributed this underutilization to the lack of basic technology skills and know how, a network and support system for guidance and more importantly, the desire to look to the internet for learning tools and information resources.

John Horrigon on the Pew Research Center wrote about the digital readiness of adults and clustered them into 2 major groups which are the "relatively hesitant" and the "relatively more prepared". Surprisingly, 52% turned out to be relatively hesitant when it comes to using technology.

Even more surprising, of the 52%, 33% are reluctant - they have a higher level of digital skills over the unprepared but they have limited awareness of education tools available which results to little internet usage. The unprepared, which makes up 14% do not use the internet for learning and education. They basically need help setting up their devices and would need to learn some terms commonly used on MOOCs and other learning platform. They also need to develop their computer skills to be more confident.

The lower spectrum on the relatively more prepared is made up of 31% conscious clickers - those who have the skills but lacks familiarity with credible and trustworthy resources and only 17% can be considered digitally ready.

This tells us that a majority of the population that has access to additional learning, trainings and higher education that MOOCs offer are not using the technology available to them appropriately.

Similar studies done by researchers from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology revealed the same findings.

So, why is it that when the opportunity has already presented itself and knowledge is available for the taking, these MOOCs fail to generate the results?

The Harvard research attributes the underutilization to what they call as the "MOOC paradox". This meant that "democratizing education could actually compound existing inequality." By having access to internet, a smart student from a low income family can have access to great courses online but at the same time, kids from a relatively wealthy family can have access to the same.

MOOCs have not lost their potential. What policy makers, advocates and educators need to do is to encourage people to use them and exert an effort to bring these courses to the people who can benefit from them the most.

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