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In recent years, education as a whole has seen a major shift toward tech in the classroom. Then what happens when you take the classroom out of the picture? In 2008 George Siemens did just that by creating one of the first prominent massive open online courses (MOOCs), which have now evolved into diverse offerings from different websites, platforms and companies like Coursera and edX.

Higher education institutions followed the trend and began the shift toward more online course offerings or hybrids with components of online learning paired with the traditional classroom experience. The University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University have embraced online courses through Coursera and by means of internal faculty curating web accessible content and courses for traditional degree-seeking students.

Dr. Tim Elmore, the Founder and President of Growing Leaders, says that online courses are not only better than traditional classroom courses, but the future of education. The reasoning behind his claim is based on the thought that students will be empowered to interact, work at their own pace, and the virtual limitless of online courses and low cost.

A woman taking an online class from Australian Universities Online Education Services.

A woman taking an online class from Australian Universities Online Education Services.

Low cost of production, high yield, it sounds almost perfect. Except a study by Khe Foon Hew and Wing Sum Cheung shows that up to 90% of students in MOOCs end up dropping out for various reasons—lack of understanding, incentive and direction from instructors being some of the most prevalent. The study also found that the majority of students were dissatisfied with the quality and format of the courses.

The major findings of this study showed these three differences between traditional classroom settings and MOOCs:

  1. Large and diverse student enrollment compared to the traditional classroom
  2. High drop-out rate compared to the traditional classroom
  3. Lack of instructor presence and support in MOOCs compared to the traditional classroom.

Based on the findings of Hew and Cheung study, the cons outweigh the pros. Being able to provide access to a larger and more diverse student body is important, but the outcome doesn’t have the perceived benefits that many supporters claim. Siemens claims that the point of MOOCs was to embody, “the attributes of the Internet: open, accessible, networked, distributed and participative.”

If students are dropping out of courses early, dissatisfied with their experiences, not incentivized appropriately to participate, and have limited access to instructors or a social experience—Computer memeanother valuable aspect of education—then I argue the benefits do not paramount the obvious pitfalls of MOOCs. College students want an education that will benefit them and enrich them in various ways. They deserve an accessible instructor and social interaction, not another screen.

Jessica Thompson