Higher Education · E-Learning

Will MOOCs kill advanced degrees and credentials?

Sadie Gilmore Senior Software Engineer at Torque

November 30th, 2015

As an entrepreneur who is heavily committed to higher learning and advanced degrees recent news of University’s becoming more accepting of MOOCs has left me a bit concerned. Most of what I learned in the classroom doesn’t seem like something I could have done on my own with a laptop. I may be old fashioned but there must be value lost in this new way- What are others thoughts/opinions on MOOCs and whether or not it is actually benefitting one’s education level/learning.

Zachary MPA Development Manager at Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania

November 30th, 2015

As a Development Manager who is heavily committed to higher learning and advanced degrees (two masters now / debating doctorate program)...I will tell you that there is CERTAINLY a difference between online and classroom learning.

In a classroom setting, the social benefits are unmatchable. I am a firm believer that in the classic University model, the relationships you make are significantly more valuable than any educational fact you can commit to memory.

But as someone that has taken a number of online classes - the concept that somehow these are "watered down" courses or that the learning curve is diminished absolutely floors me. In an online course, YOU are the responsible party for learning material. There's not an easy hand raise at 6:25pm in the middle of class to interrupt the professor to ask to clarify a concept; more likely it's a google search and textbook open at 11:45pm while you individually research a question to fully comprehend a theory.

Whether its traditional classroom, an online course or a MOOC - forgive me for maybe being naive, but I believe that learning is simply learning across the platforms. If you are dedicated to knowing something - the vehicle in which how to learn it is much less important than the internal drive to actually commit that learning to a level that you can set it into practice.

Every learning opportunity has value - and MOOCs are no different, IMHO. Sit down. Log in. Learn. And for every MOOC that you find that you don't think is worth your time - I'll show you 10 liberal arts courses (basketweaving 101 anyone?) that you could pay $825/credit for as well.

Jason Graves Software Architect - Nokia Bell Labs

November 30th, 2015

I think it depends on the long-term goals of the individual. An awesome programmer is an awesome programmer no matter their degree. If the path is to make cool things and get paid well doing it, then I say use the most efficient method for obtaining that skill-set.

Technologies, Frameworks, Languages... They all change from year to year, but the core fundamentals remain the same. And those fundamentals were taught to all of us through the same book written by Dennis Ritchie & Brian W. Kernighan back in 1983.

However, there are certain skills that only come from real-world experience. And this is where Universities are better suited to prepare you on how to handle these real-world scenarios before being forced to figure things out on their own. But to be clear, these skills can also be taught by Senior Developers and Managers on-the-job.

Bottom-line, there will always be companies that want to see the advanced degrees. And there will always be companies that only care if you know how to do the job. So I doubt MOOCs will kill anything but the Financial Aide debt.

Søren Lundby CEO at Spotter

December 1st, 2015

I think MOOCPs will be the game changer. Most likely MOOCs will not (or to be precise; the MOOCs will only be a game changer as an element in MOOCPs). MOOCP stands for Massive-Scale Online Collaboration Platforms, and will become the 3rd generation of Social Media Platforms. Based on taxonomies (which ensures structure, overview and a systematic approach) we will start solving common problems together. The MOOCPs will showcase the real heroes. Those that participate in actual problem solving together with others. Passing exams will no longer do the trick. Just look at the numbers: In 2025 more 250,000,000 students will be on their way to get a university degree on their CV. You'll need more than that. It is much better to show - in real time - that you can solve exact problems and team up with others.  

Max Avroutski Building EV Charging & Electric Energy Access company

November 30th, 2015

When you say "Most of what I learned in the classroom doesn't seem like something I could have done on my own with a laptop"
Respectfully, Do you mean you have difficulty or can't learn using computer or do you mean that large percentage of other people will have difficulty or couldn't learn using a computer even if they had one?
Also, what exactly is that that you learned in the classroom that you don't see that could be learned via computer ?

David Fridley Founder at Synaccord

November 30th, 2015

I''ve done the BACS and the MBA in the traditional classroom.  I've done MOOC courses in Startup Engineering, User Interface Design, Democracy, and a few others.  I have a high opinion of the MOOC courses and what I've learned.  I can see that your experience in class or online depends on the professor and the content.  I also see MOOCs a greate way to iterate on the best way to teach a subject - you create the class - if it doesn't have the impact you want, you modify it until it works.  Kind of like a startup.  

If you say there's stuff that you couldn't have learned on a laptop can you give a specific example?

But I don't think MOOCs are for discovery, and identifying new things to learn.

Simon Moloney

November 30th, 2015

Hi Sadie, I work in a related space specifically, the development of skills based credentialing for IT staff. My hope is that MOOCs can be leveraged to offer students fundamental or foundational building blocks and skills at a lower cost. And universities etc. can then help students with more advanced topics and broadminded thinking and experiences at a lower cost. It pains me that so much time and resources are consumed teaching the things one should arguably know before taking on a degree program.

Joanan Hernandez CEO & Founder at Mollejuo

November 30th, 2015

Hello Max,

"Also, what exactly is that that you learned in the classroom that you don't see that could be learned via computer ?"

Several come to mind quickly, like: Laplace Transform, Fourier SeriesNyquist, Smith Chart and many others!

It is possible to learn them from a online class, however you'll need a good background to even approach the subject. So, it is far more efficient to learn it in a physical "real world" classroom. Maybe a virtual classroom could apply, nevertheless is still a classroom.


Tiffany Reiss, PhD Academic at heart, entrepreneur in spirit.

November 30th, 2015

There are differences between an online environment and the physical classroom environment.  As a university professor, I teach in both environments.  A MOOC (or really any online course) is designed for an individual who is self-directed, motivated, driven, and organized.  Someone who can manage their time and prioritize their needs.  Is this an average 18-22 year old? No.  Is there a small percentage of 18-22 y/o who would be successful taking MOOC's or online courses, yes...majority, no.  Plus, so much is learned within a university/college context for those 18-22 y/o that has nothing to do with any "classroom" environment. 
There is something important about being able to sit in a classroom of peers and think, discuss, question, process all of what is taking place organically, in the moment.  Valuable learning opportunities. Online is far less organic and much more "staged" in many ways.  It's less spontaneous and sometimes, though not always, the best learning happens in those spontaneous moments.

 Learning is more than just the accumulation of information.  It's also processing that information and figuring out where that piece of the puzzle fits in what is an ever expanding knowledge universe.   It's context and collaboration.  It's connection with that information in a meaningful way.  For some a MOOC will accomplish this...but I am thinking probably more so with those who already have a great deal of experience and therefore already have that context.  

David Fridley Founder at Synaccord

November 30th, 2015

To what Tiffany has said I want to add that some of the MOOCs I have been in had (online) team projects, and for others there have been in person study groups.  These are all valuable. 

And I agree, a requirement for MOOC success is to be self-directed, motivated, and driven.  I wish there was a way to teach that in high school. 

Max Avroutski Building EV Charging & Electric Energy Access company

November 30th, 2015

Joanan - your argument is self defeating by "you'll need a good background to even approach the subject" which is true no matter where you learn it, in class or virtually and therefor you argument is wrong. Search Youtube, there are dozens of super good tutorials on each of the subjects you mentioned.