The idea of using the collective intelligence of a community or group of people to solve a problem isn't anything new. Much like the massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG's) work in gaming, massive open online courses (MOOC's) works for education. While the movement is still relatively new and hard to measure, the New York Times did just report that the standard for course completion is a balmy 10%, with 20% being "a wild success" according to the article.
With education, it can be argued like this CNN article does, Online Courses Need Human Element to Educate, and that the experience of classroom learning can't be replicated online. But what can't be argued are the numbers, and according to a survey earlier this month by the Babson Survey Research Group, more than 6.7 million people take at least one online course. As for what classes are being taken, and for what end remains a mystery, at least from the Babson study.
With the rapid pace of technology advancing movements like MOOC's, it's still up in the air as to what the best way to tie-in the real-world interactions, and intimacy that many see as pre-requisites for widespread adoption, particularly with major universities.
Some, like Mediabistro, strive for a different kind of online intimacy according to this article on MOOC's and Education on National Public Radio site WNYC. Carmen Scheidel, head of online education at Mediabistro, echoes the inability of MOOC's to replicate classroom atmosphere, "One of the things that is been yet to be determined with MOOC's is how to create intimacy. So if you have tens of thousands of people learning a subject together, that's exciting and perhaps a social movement, but how do you create one-on-one feedback?"
Their approach was to create courses for a limited number of people, and in addition to having huge online classes, also require smaller groups to work on real projects and get coaching from mentors. The recent offerings from Google, including Google+ Hangouts, Screencast and ProProfs Training Maker are making it possible to create a different kind of intimacy online.
There is no question that the medium also plays a role in what subjects can be taught effectively. Some subjects are just better suited for online learning than others. A philosophy seminar might not work as well online, as say an IT class, for instance. This is probably the reason that most of the online classes that are taught revolve around technology and how to use it.
In addition to massive online courses, many teachers are also using their existing course materials to create online courses where they can supplement actual offline classes, or create entirely new online classes. With tools like Training Maker from ProProfs, teachers can upload powerpoint presentations, videos or lectures, and any other kind of document to instantly create educational courses and charge for them, offer them free, or to a certain group of existing students for example.
The ability to recycle materials instructors have worked on and honed over the years has it's advantages, and the ability to charge for classes, can really help teachers out who have been hit hard by cuts in educational funding. By taking their course materials, and with a little know-how, they can create compelling courses with media, quizzes and certificates that can appeal to the 6.7 million or so people who are already familiar with how to take a course online. In the words of President Barack Obama from last nights inauguration speech,
"…we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more and reach higher…"