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Online learning – with MOOCs, Spocs and similar courses

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free and interactive courses that are accessible worldwide – a fascinating idea with consequences for education and continuing professional development (CPD).

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They triggered a huge amount of hype five years ago: the so-called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – interactive, globally accessible and free courses covering a wide range of specialist areas. Even though the hype may now be over, the fascinating idea nonetheless has far-reaching consequences for internal and external training and CPD.

Education experts are confident that MOOCs are and will remain a productive idea and will enhance the education landscape of the future

It has been five years since the interactive online courses known by their acronym MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses – pronounced to rhyme with roots) first inspired users all over the world. The idea of everybody being able to access high-quality, interactive courses covering various specialist areas at university level free of charge online was fascinating. Whether at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or the donor-financed Khan Academy – in the years 2012/2013, most internationally minded and forward-thinking education experts were convinced that the new online courses would change the world! Now, five years later, the big initial hype may be over, but digital learning,  digital skills, online education and continuing professional development remain a, if not the most important subject of the future.

Technical trends, education and the future of work belong together

Based on the Gartner Hype Cycle, any new technology and any trend goes through several phases of public attention (see diagram). The so-called ‘Innovation Trigger’ marks the start and could be an invention or the launch of an internationally respected project that initially attracts the attention of trade professionals. Enthusiastic reports follow, which attract more attention and a wider audience, but mostly only lead to the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’, ultimately ending in the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’. After this period of general disillusionment comes a less frenzied reality check of the new trend with a clearer idea of all the advantages and disadvantages of the new technology, which ultimately levels off on a new ‘Plateau of Productivity’. When the concept of the Gartner Hype Cycle is applied to the idea of e-learning, digital learning and MOOCs, they are well on their way (five years after the big hype) to reaching the enduring Plateau of Productivity.

It can generally be said that since the beginning of the new millennium, the way in which people learn and the range of educational and professional development courses on offer have changed very quickly.

Orange Hype Curve for eLearning

The Gartner Hype Cycle for eLearning

The Gartner Hype Cycle describes the five phases of public attention in relation to new technologies and trends

Digital learning with the best MOOC platforms of 2018

Whether Coursera with over 2,000 MOOCs, edX with 1,500 or FutureLearn with hundreds of MOOCs, the digital courses of study on offer all over the world are providing access to education at a high level.  Those who want to get a well-informed overview of the scene and consider certain quality criteria will find the best MOOC platforms of 2018. One interesting Europe-wide initiative, for example, is the OpenupEd platform, on which online courses are not only offered by universities from European countries such as France, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom, but also Russia, Turkey and Israel. MOOC students on OpenupEd can currently choose from more than 200 courses in 13 different languages, plus Arabic.

Meanwhile, experience and evaluation of the first five MOOC years show that small is also beautiful. More recently, there are an increasing number of smaller but by all means successful courses known as ‘Spocs’: Small Private Online Courses instead of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Anytime and anywhere: the future of education is known as ‘digital learning’

In addition to the aforementioned MOOCs and Spocs, there are a growing number of other educational and CPD courses online. MOOCS, Spocs, classes, courses or programmes of every kind are primarily designed for people to learn something new and more substantial. Those who decide to enrol on one of the courses should first check whether it is really free and reputable.

Then there is also the huge increase in educational articles, blogs, videos, tutorial and tools that can be found within a matter of seconds or minutes by entering the right search term in various search engines. Let’s say a company or business wishes to produce a short video about a certain new development or a certain issue in order to instruct, train or educate all of its employees. A few years ago, a video production like this would have been a complex and costly undertaking that could only be done by trained specialists. Nowadays, various tutorials show in a clear and straightforward manner how such a small video or tutorial can be produced without a great deal of effort or additional outlay. The word is yet to spread around with regard to the potential here for education, professional development and internal training.

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