Online courses endanger learning on campus

Google is sponsoring research into massive open online courses (or MOOCs) here at Carnegie Mellon. While The Tartan recognizes the potential that this new style of teaching holds, MOOCs provide a learning experience of ambiguous quality, and should not replace real classroom learning.

MOOCs are increasingly popular on college campuses across the nation and have been for a few years now. In September 2013, Google partnered with edX — an online education nonprofit jointly created by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — to design a website that will provide MOOC videos, according to Slate magazine. However, scant evidence exists that MOOCs are effective. According to Time magazine, current research into the subject — as limited as it is — suggests that online education offers inadequate success rates.

At first glance, MOOCs seem like a good way to offer education to a greater number of students at a reduced price. Upon further consideration, however, more issues come to light. Almost 90 percent of people who sign up for MOOCs do not actually complete them, partially because the courses are free and don’t count for credits in most universities, according to Time. Part of the problem is that many students do not feel compelled to complete the MOOCs because they don’t receive college credit, and many universities will not offer credit for MOOCs until more comprehensive research on their effectiveness becomes available.

MOOCs simply do not offer the same level of engagement that a classroom learning experience does. Online classes are more akin to huge lecture classes, where a professor tries to teach 100 students or more. The professor can’t possibly engage with all students, and most students will potentially have difficulty forging connections with their teacher. Though some students may excel in such an environment, many students would have great difficulty adapting.

Online education is a fast-developing field, with plenty of potential for expansion. However, until more of that potential is realized, online education should not be considered the equal of, or a replacement for, classroom learning.