Free Education

19 July 2016

With the University of Melbourne’s ever­growing digital infrastructure, students of all faculties are acquainted with multiple online resources. However, did you know there is a recent project offering online courses on Science, Arts and Medicine?

The University has been in partnership with digital education company Coursera, developing Massive Openly Online Courses (MOOCs) since 2013. MOOCs are free and open to anyone in the world who has a computer and an internet connection. To date, there have been more than one million learners from 120 countries enrolled. Social justice experts have hailed the project as a means of providing courses to students from minorities, traditionally locked out of tertiary education. For example, MOOCs are accessible to students who cannot afford university degrees.

As a pioneer in online courses, the University is the first university to partner with Coursera in Australia. According to Professor Kennedy, Pro Vice­Chancellor (Educational Innovation), the University was motivated to trial MOOCs because “it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn more about online learning and reaching students across the world.”

To boost the attraction for students, the University is cooperating with several industry, arts and cultural organisations in managing MOOCs. These include the National Gallery of Victoria, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, California’s Huntington Art Gallery and Hong Kong University. The University’s most popular MOOC is a course in finance specialisation which collaborates with The Bank of New York Mellon.

Most students give the University’s MOOCs program positive feedback. The learning design team is dedicated to provide the learning environment with an engaging social experience and peer support. The University administers a private Facebook group, which has thousands of members for many courses. It helps people who join the community practice the skills they have developed after completing the course.

A common criticism of the MOOCs initiative is that it has high enrolment but low completion rates. While on average 23,000­25,000 students are enrolled in a MOOC, there is a completion rate of only 15 per cent. Professor Kennedy claims that whether this is a problem depends on if you are judging by individual or institutional standards. In terms of individuals, lots of people use MOOCs to sample courses without making large financial or time commitments. This explains why lots of students do not feel the need to complete their degrees. In terms of institutional standards, many employers consider MOOCs certificates legitimate qualifications, which makes it worthwhile for those students who do decide to finish.

More and more plans are being published by the University outlining how MOOCs will be expanded and developed. Although it is not currently available, students might eventually even get academic credit for MOOCs.

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