Education has always been one of the most precious resources that a society can supply it’s citizens.  In fact without education, an economy is unlikely to flourish in today’s connected society.  Which is a real problem for emerging economies and less developed countries, who simply aren’t able to provide wide spread, high quality learning to it’s citizens.   In the developed world, providing education is always a challenge for governments mainly based on how it should be financed rather than availability.

There are however huge developments in the world of online learning which offer opportunity to all countries to upgrade the educational opportunities available to their citizens.  To some extent the earliest form of this distance learning was pioneered in the UK with the Open University, a huge distance learning university where you study from home.  Initially many of the lectures where delivered on British TV stations and the radio although they too have now moved online.

Did you think that a Physics course from Stanford was out of reach for you, or perhaps a Business course from Harvard ?  Well all these and thousands more are available online for anyone with an internet connection to some extent !  Many of these courses have been online for quite a few years but not accessible to everyone.  Indeed many major Universities started off with quite limited access, although if you knew how to use decent proxies like this you get through to some.  They used similar technology initially as used by the large e-commerce retailers who sell things like tickets to concerts online.

The world of education is changing though and at the heart of this digital inspired revolution is the MOOC.   This stands for Massive Open Online Course, although slight variations on this acronym do exist.  The concept and implementation varies but it’s basically moving much of the traditional education provision online.  This will definitely accelerate after the covid 19 pandemic where many traditional secondary schools have also been forced to move their classrooms online.


So what exactly is a MOOC and why is it so important?  Well it offers the opportunity for a student to study a certain course, delivered by a specific professor irrespective of where they live.  The secret of course is the internet, which allows a course to be delivered in an open access format across the web. Traditional course material are supplied such as digital lectures, films, slides and documents which mirror the normal formats.  Many even offer the chance to earn the same qualification as standard students who are actually attending do.  Mostly though there’s a certificate or non-certificate option which recognises you’ve completed the course.

Earlier courses were quite basic and just involved filming lectures and then making resources downloadable,  which of course was a extremely popular.  However as the format was adopted by more and more educational establishments the courses developed too, with the digital format improved in it’s own right.

One of the first major improvements was to allow for both tutor and pupil interaction concerning the courses.  Of course, a tutor wouldn’t be able to respond to thousands of pupils all across the globe.  However interactive forums and message boards allow this interaction enabling fellow students, assistant teachers and others to help professors support the huge volume of students.  These would also help build up additional resources such as course specific FAQs.

The provision and development of online courses has developed rapidly over the last few years.  In January 2012, the University of Helsinki launched a Finish MOOC in programming.  It was developed because in many Finish provinces there was no premises or teachers available to provide such a course, the MOOC ensured that any Finish student could study programming if they wished from wherever they were.

There are some difficulties and challenges to the expansion of these digital courses, one of the most important is licensing and funding.  In an ideal world of course, these courses could be open to anyone however this can be difficult to finance for most educational establishments.  Many have tried restricting the access to specific locations in order to limit demand, however this is increasingly difficult with various tools like this which hide your location.

James Cavendish

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