Online classrooms: Are we MOOC’d out?

Are online courses the next Napster movement or is it just a buzzword phase for alternative learning?

Are online courses the next Napster movement or is it just a buzzword phase for alternative learning? Aparna Srivastava wonders whether this online movement will bridge the gap in learning in India where internet access still remains privileged. 


The Salman Khan Academy has earned global recognition for its online video tutorials. Pic:

It is the era of online education. Salman Khan’s brainchild Khan Academy offers free video tutorials and has been welcomed with success. Open Courseware and online educational videos are gaining popularity by the day. With websites like Coursera and Edx offering courses in various fields from the best universities in the world, it seems as if pursuing a course of your choice from your favourite university is easier than ever before. Yes, all you need is an internet connection. But is it really that simple? And what is the value of this new face of learning?

Virtual Classrooms

Launched in 2012, Coursera and edX offer free classes online. The courses are rigorous and require constant effort.  On successful completion of a course, you receive a certificate of completion signed by the instructor. These websites seem to bridge education disparity by being accessible to a wide audience. However, they cannot compensate for a real university experience which is not limited to academics.  As of now, there are over three million ‘Coursarians’ using the website’s virtual classrooms. This indicates the willingness of people to learn. But how effective is such learning? Will virtual education pay dividends in the ‘real’ world? Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera, presented a case for online learning in her June 2012 Ted Talk. Yes, a lot of knowledge is up for grabs-for free. So who learns in these virtual classrooms?  A super interested high school student, college students trying to widen their horizon, someone trying to brush up their knowledge which has dwindled and become misty over the years.  In the Indian scenario, these websites can be seen as a platform for students to explore multi-disciplinary courses – a luxury for the Indian student limited by the country’s rigid education system

The boom in online classrooms

Khan Academy, Open Courseware, free online videos – there is abundant material online available to teach yourself and do it all on your own. As is popularly known, the lessons Khan created to teach his cousin Nadia, led to the creation of Khan Academy in 2006. Currently, the site hosts 4,300 videos. The mission the site boasts of is similar to that of Coursera and Edx, “a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” When MIT Open Courseware was announced in 2002, it aimed at “unlocking knowledge” to “empower” people to learn on their own. For those with an internet connection, there are abundant resources to educate themselves. This boom of online learning is the reason why The New York Times called 2012 the Year of the MOOC (massive open online courses). But is this abundant availability of online learning resources a bit over-hyped?


Online learning is not interchangeable with a university degree, one can certainly access these lectures at no extra costs.

“Are We MOOC’d Out?”

Dennis Yang raised this question in his article in the Huffington Post. While Yang asserts that the MOOCs “have already provided wider access to education” he also remarks that “a lot of the MOOCs that exist now may be gone in a few years’ time.” He cites the example of a reporter who declined to cover an event related to online learning “solely because she was, in her words, ‘MOOC’d out.’” Yes, many people have apprehensions about these MOOCs. They fear it to be the next Napster movement and hold reservations about the efficacy of learning via a mere video lecture. Their reservations seem valid to some extent – online learning is not interchangeable with a university degree or a holistic learning environment. The question is, what about the people who do have access to quality higher education? If education is the privilege of a select few, should the MOOC revolution be seen as a means of bridging the gap in learning?  Responses to MOOCs have hinted that users find online learning beneficial. User responses on online learning websites seem encouraging – Nihal, a Khan Academy user says, “This website changed my life.”

The Indian Viewpoint: Off Limits for Some?

Coursera’s website states that they want people to “learn without limits.” Does online education remove limits for the student in rural India? Education in India is reserved for the privileged few-according to Teach For India, a 2 year long teaching fellowship which says that 90% of students do not complete school and 90% of those who complete it never reach college.

Khan Academy

With internet access in India being limited, although increasing in its interior penetration, is online learning only widening the gap? Pic:

Can online learning make a difference? Accessibility to the internet in rural India is increasing and some online resources seem to have the potential to aid the process of primary education in rural India. For example, Mobile Internet Users in India have seen a growth of 7.2 times from 0.5 million in 2010 as reported by India Online. However, 61% – 80% of India’s population lives on less than $2 a day. How accessible is online learning to this section of society? Compare this section to the Indian student pursuing multiple courses online along with regular college – has online learning emphasized  the disparity in education in India?

Online learning has created a buzz and has found its takers. It has much to offer and is finding a larger audience by the day. But while it has created ripples in the education system and opened a vast pool of questions about the way learning is perceived today, there are still many layers of infrastructural pre-requisites to accessing an online classroom. With the world going virtual for every need and service by the second, there’s no doubt that e-learning will only evolve. Hopefully, this evolution will entail a greater degree of accessibility and social inclusivity in the future.


Aparna is a student of literature, avid follower of Tennis, dancer, amateur cook and of course, a passionate reader and writer. Popular science and environmental issues deeply interest her. more


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Aparna is a student of literature, avid follower of Tennis, dancer, amateur cook and of course, a passionate reader and writer. Popular science and environmental issues deeply interest her. more

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