The Deepening Disruption of Education_About MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)
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Education has historically and globally been accessible by those with the privilege and resources to attend school. This is especially true for higher education (university or graduate school). Though the world has changed drastically in the past century, the education system has seen very little change.

  • The key ideas of a traditional education: selective (education geared towards those selected through a screening process of tests and applications), offline (gathering in a physical space), courses (to obtain a degree in a specified field of study), and closed (lectures accept 50-100 students per course).
  • How the university system came about: In ancient and medieval times, the school system was the most effective and efficient way to transmit information. All education was provided within the [1] confines of a school, and as the importance of one’s educational background rose, the school became a space that granted privileges to its students.
  • Why significant structural reforms in education have not occurred: 1) People became fixated on the idea that education was a critical and major [2] rite of passage, 2) in order to preserve their vested rights, intellectuals did not want the existing system to change (for example, the intellectuals wanted to maintain the status and power associated with a university education).

In the early 2000s, the world saw the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), which showed signs that it could disrupt the current education system.

  • The key ideas of MOOC: open (it targets all people), online (learning through the internet), courses (university level education), and massive (thousands of people can access a lecture at once).
  • The birth of MOOC: 1) It is more than possible to obtain a quality education online, 2) there are lower costs associated with the distribution of course material when education happens online, 3) everyone has a right to education, regardless of their socioeconomic background.
  • How MOOC challenges existing models: Those who [3] espouse MOOC believe in the abolition of systems based on degrees and alma maters. They instead advocate for a system that would rate students based on their attendance and understanding of lectures

Furthermore, as the number of beneficiaries and suppliers grows, MOOC has affected not only students’ lives but also the lives of ordinary people.

  • An expanding consumer base: Khan Academy provides a variety of free math/science lessons in 80 different languages. It has now grown to expand its consumer base from university students and professionals to kids in primary and secondary school.
  • An expanding provider base: Udemy created a platform where all users could become instructors in a variety of fields (e.g. UX designer, Java Engineer, etc.) Having started with professors, this company has expanded its base of instructors to include regular people.

Khan Academy, Udemy, and many other MOOCs have grown tremendously thanks to five common factors.


  • History: Coursera was founded in 2012 by professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller from Stanford University.
  • Mission: Coursera works with elite universities like Stanford, Princeton, and UPenn to make some of their courses available online for free. The company aims to provide a quality education to as many people as possible.
  • Method: Watch online lectures engage in online discussions complete assignments and take tests of various levels which are administered completely online receive college credit and verified certificates that authenticate successful course completion.
  • Current state: As of January 2016, Coursera has partnered with more than 140 universities and educational institutions, offering 1600 courses in physics, engineering, the humanities, social sciences, economics, etc. for more than 20 million people.


  • History: Udacity was founded in 2011 by Sebastian Thrun, founder of Google X and professor at Stanford University.
  • 1st differentiation: Unlike Coursera, which offers courses in a wide spectrum of academic fields, Udacity offers lectures primarily in the computer sciences (Udacity initially offered university-style lectures for users, but it now targets professional CS engineers seeking to apply their coding skills).
  • 2nd differentiation: Udacity manages lectures created by Google, AT&T, and Facebook. For example, the HTML5 Game Development course is taught by an engineer from Google.
  • Method: Watch online lectures and review the material complete practice problems and quizzes, all while managing a “project.”
  • Price: The free version gives users access to the lecture for about two weeks. Afterwards, users are allowed to participate in a project for a fee of $150. Additional bonuses include feedback from professors as well as private sessions with the professors. When the project is complete, Udacity issues certificates of completion of individual courses.
  • Current state: 2 million students from 160 countries are using Udacity, whose courses are offered in seven different languages.


  • History: edX was founded in 2012 by scientists from Harvard and MIT. Unlike Coursera and Udacity, both for-profit organizations, edX focuses on realizing the social value of education and runs on a non-profit business model.
  • Differentiation: At the base level, edX is quite similar to Coursera, but fitting for an organization founded by Harvard alumni, edX offers more literature courses of high levels of difficulty. Critics point out that the edX classes take too long to prepare for.
  • Current state: edX offers courses from 70 well-known universities and research institutions (Korea’s Seoul National University is a contributor to edX). The 700 lectures are available primarily in English and are accessed by more than 7 million viewers.

Khan Academy

  • History: Khan Academy was founded in 2006 by Salman Khan, who graduated from MIT with Bachelor of Science degrees in mathematics, electrical engineering, and computer science. Salman holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and worked as a hedge fund analyst in Boston. In 2003, Khan began tutoring his cousin in mathematics over the internet using Yahoo’s Doodle notepad and later moved his tutorials to Youtube.
  • Mission: Observing the popularity of his educational videos, Salman Khan quit his job to start a non-profit that would “accelerate learning for students of all ages.”
  • Differentiation: In its early years, Khan Academy provided only mathematics tutorials in the form of short and easy-to-understand clips that explained mathematic concepts. Khan soon dove into subjects outside of math, including the sciences, economics, the humanities, art history, history, and more.
  • Funding: Khan Academy struggled financially in its early years. But Bill Gates, upon seeing his son studying mathematics through Khan Academy, invested $6.5M. Google [4] followed suit by investing $2M. Khan Academy continued to thrive with the support of international corporations.
  • Current state: Khan Academy’s lessons are being translated into more than 30 different languages and are taught by over 1M instructors from 190 countries. The organization now has approximately 30M subscribers.


  • History: Udemy was founded in 2007 by Eren Bali, who had built software for a live virtual classroom while living in Turkey. Hoping to create a service that would offer affordable online education, he moved to Silicon Valley to start the company along with two partners.
  • Mission: Udemy allows instructors to build online courses on topics of their choosing and provides affordable content for people around the world.
  • Differentiation: Udemy is not associated with any university but rather acts like the “Uber of Education.” All who wish to be instructors can join and teach. Also, the target audience is working men and women rather than students.
  • Current state: Udemy has 20,000 instructors, 40,000 lessons, and 12 million users

Compared to traditional education models, MOOC certainly has an advantage in terms of its accessibility and mass appeal.

  • Low cost, high quality: MOOC gives students access to quality lectures for 1-10% of the price of a college education, which costs thousands of dollars.
  • Accessibility: With a laptop and internet access, students can access the courses from anywhere in the world.
  • Content provider: You don’t have to be a world-renowned professor to be an instructor. With passion and sufficient communication skills, regular people can become teachers.

⇒ The rise of MOOC makes us wonder: a) if a college degree aptly represents a person’s skillset and potential, and b) whether a degree is an accurate measure of a student’s abilities.

Unfortunately, there are several critical limitations to MOOCs.

  • Low course completion rates: The percentage of people who complete a course through a MOOC is estimated to be a meager 5-10%.
  • Lack of socialization and character development: MOOCs cannot teach students the social and cooperative skills that blossom in interactions with peers and teachers.
  • Inability to customize the class experience: Each person has a unique capacity and ability to process and retain new information. MOOCs are unable to accommodate these individual differences.

What is the “essence” of education? Can universities and existing institutions preserve the essence of education? Is the existing education system effective? Do MOOCs have the potential to overturn the dynamics of education throughout the world? How might education have changed in ten years?

Please discuss this topic with your Ringle Tutor and take the time to own your spoken English.

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