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Will MOOCs Lead to More Degrees?

Anant Agarwal, President of edX and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, visited the LinkedIn Studios in New York to talk about the state of MOOCs.

When the word “massive” is part of what you are, as is the case with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), it’s hard for others to think of how it can be a personal educational experience. The idea begins to sound like an oxymoron. People unfamiliar with taking a MOOC might conjure images similar to Ben Stein’s classic scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: a droning lecturer (in the case of MOOC learning, on video) while hundreds of thousands of MOOC students snooze, drool, and massage their eyelids trying to stay awake and focused.

When MOOCs first came to prominence a few short years ago, a large part of the focus was on scale. Much of our energy was spent figuring out how to take classroom experiences that accommodated – at most – about a hundred students and make them accessible for numbers into the hundreds of thousands.

Today, millions of learners all over the world have access to some of the greatest courses our universities and institutions have to offer. Students anywhere can now learn from the world’s top professors and industry experts in just about any subject imaginable.

As MOOCs have evolved, they now offer a more personal experience for students. What we’re finding is that students really enjoy the interactive self-paced technologies like short videos that you can pause and rewind, virtual game-like laboratories, discussion forums, and instantly graded exercises. Referring to the Sal Khan-style videos I used in my Circuits MOOC, a student once wrote me saying he felt as if I was sitting next to him scribbling a personal tutorial. These technologies are only expected to continue to evolve, and learning will further personalize, offering multiple pathways to navigate courses that fit specific learning styles, needs and speeds.

Now that we are three years into MOOCS, we are encouraged to evaluate our gains and look to the future of personalization for MOOCS. Today, MOOCs offer freedom and democratization of education. Students have the choice to pick their own teachers, coursework, and their own educational path. And, we’re finding that creating smaller social and collaborative groupings within a MOOC can further tailor and personalize the learner experience.

Here’s how we plan to make MOOCs even more personal: