MOOCs in Libraries

MOOCs, or massively open online courses, have taught millions of users worldwide everything from calculus and particle physics to watercolor painting and conversational French, often for free or at low cost. But as platforms that make these pre-recorded or interactive lessons available continue to grow in popularity, an even greater focus on viable education is taking root. Some courses have now begun to reach audiences of learners that incorporate MOOCs into actual online accreditation.

As a learning opportunity, MOOCs were once the internet equivalent of taking a continuing education night course at the local community college. More and more universities, however, are offering accreditation through these online classes, and a recently tabled California bill would have offered accreditation on an even broader scale. Companies like Coursera have seen a tremendous growth in the number of participants—both student participants and instructors—with enrollment of 300,000 in spring of 2012 growing to over four million as of November 2013.

A pilot program in place in Los Angeles is letting citizens earn fully accredited high school diplomas via free online learning courses, in conjunction with any credit the individual has already earned from a public school. The potential impact on libraries and how they are perceived in terms of necessary to the continuation of a free society, including education, is so important, in fact, that Steven Hoover, Senior Assistant Librarian at Syracuse University, has even been quoted as saying that all librarians should enroll in a MOOC themselves in order to be better prepared to meet the needs of the public who turn to their libraries for help. Moreover, an increasing number of libraries are not only setting aside workspace for patrons to participate in a course, some are even establishing technology in place to allow patrons to lead a MOOC themselves.

Supporters and critics will continue to argue over MOOCs’ place in society. Those in favor of this model see these courses as the great democratization of global education whereby educators can employ comprehensive online resources from local libraries online as learning materials such asdigital newspapers and magazines, e-books and journals which serve to enhance lesson plans and online curriculums Those who deride MOOCs see them as a non-sustainable model that will come and go. As the most recent wave of disruptive technology to hit the internet, one thing is for certain: online learning has now officially changed, and hopefully has evolved into education for all. Where libraries fit into the global adoption of online, open education will depend largely on the willingness to open the doors to these pioneering students.