Why are MOOCs important?

And what I learnt…

I learnt about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) thanks to a friend’s post on Facebook about Coursera a year ago. I was intrigued and excited. I signed up for several courses, then gave up. Today, after several attempts I finished my first Coursera course — Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative by Jay Clayton from Vanderbilt University.

You may have come across amazing stories about siblings from Pakistan to whom MOOCs opened world and allowed to attend courses at prestigious American universities. Or the one about autistic teenager to whom MOOC allowed to attend a class of his choice. In reality, I suspect many subscribe, then drop out. Just look at me. So why bother?

One may question if MOOC equals studying in a class with live teacher. While some experienced close contact with their instructor during their studies, some my classes at technical university looked like very low-tech MOOC — lecture full of students, where the only (if any) personal interaction with the professor would be during scoring of your final exam. I must admit, especially when it came to Inorganic chemistry I didn’t particularly mind. On the other hand, some lectures were more a discussion with the teacher in small classes. So my own answer is — it all depends what you are studying. I suspect my course of choice would be probably more interactive live.

Will MOOC change the world? Well, they already do. I would never attend such course if it weren’t for MOOC. While this is not probably world changing situation, it may be for someone, somewhere. Of course, to become doctor you still have to make it to Uni (I hope), but why not to have a sneak peak at some class? MOOCs are not just for all those geeky people out there.

You may wonder, what I actually learnt. So, first of all, I don’t think this course will help in any way to my marketing career, that was not the point. I did it for fun. Plus I like Tolkien. But here are a few lessons I learnt:

1. We have certain way we like stories to be told — no matter if it’s medieval poem or today’s game.

2. This course completely skipped Icelandic sagas — such shame — and unsurprisingly focused on romantic English literature.

3. I read Keats’s poem and actually, for the first time in my life, I liked it.

4. Medieval English is really, really different.

5. I was right not to study literature at university — it’s just not me.

6. I suck at LOTRO. During first mission I managed to end up in some ditch and I have been in since.

So, if in doubt, this all means it was worth it. It was interesting. It made a difference. Because if we did just meaningful things in our lives, it would all become very predictable and boring. It’s great to get a bit out of your comfort zone (ok, in the safety of your own living room). After all, once we stop being curious about the world around us, what’s left?