Variety and choice of courses
So many to choose from, not just science and technology but humanities too. Most are in English, but I’m starting to see some foreign language courses appearing here and there.
Top universities involved
Some of the world’s best universities are starting to offer free open courses in an attempt to stop being “irrelevant” in this fast-changing landscape of continuing education. Harvard, Stanford, MIT etc have all heavily invested in MOOCs and other forms of open courseware.
Students from all over the world, from all walks of life
Brings a whole new dimension to learning, especially where there are active forums and other forms of student interaction. (This variety of perspectives might help the educators as much as the other learners.) See article about preliminary demographic data on MOOC learners.
Quality of courses
Okay, taking a free Coursera course is not the same as studying at Stanford, but it’s usually taught by a real expert and includes use of top-quality course material and lectures.
Quizzes, projects, assignments etc give a whole new dimension to a plain old MIT OpenCourseWare-style model where you just view the videos and other materials without any interaction. Most students only learn and stay engaged when there are quizzes and games involved.
In some courses, professors overcome the problem of grading tens of thousands of papers by instituting a system of peer assessment. This helps with inter-student collaboration and may bring new insights to the work.
Discussion boards and forums
Help students to interact and collaborate, and this in turn gives them the personal support and encouragement to carry on studying.
If there is a vibrant forum, this is a great way for people interested in similar subjects to meet each other and stay acquainted. Some courses involved Meetups, Google Hangouts etc.
Data on how people learn
A bit spooky for privacy advocates, but since these courses are entirely online and tracked, it’s a great way to learn how people learn. You can see in what order students watch videos, how they progress through the course, what they like and dislike… This feedback in turn helps them improve the course for next time.
If you don’t understand something, you can watch the video again/check out further resources/ask in discussion forums until you do. In regular courses you can’t ask the lecturer to repeat what he says all the time.
Free/affordable: Most MOOCs are free and others are affordable compared to a university education. Okay, you still need to pay for a good internet connection and computer, but it’s a lot cheaper than studying a regular course.
You get back what you put in
Students can choose how much effort they wish to put into the course – and they’ll benefit proportionally.
Professors in regular universities can use aspects of the MOOCs (e.g. a video, a quiz) to enhance their own teaching.
Freedom to learn
You are free to choose any subject you’re interested in – don’t need to worry about taking prerequisite courses or a set framework of courses.
No enrollment limit: Anyone who wishes to study can join up.
The professor usually links to other great sources/readings/websites if a student wishes to go deeper into the subject.
Open learning systems
Most open courseware providers use open source learning systems, allowing these to be adapted and improved.
Unlike websites like TED or Khan Academy, MOOCs are generally paced. This helps give a structure and framework to the course.