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By University of Salford Press Office [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

MOOCs: Effective learning tools

Massive open online courses, called MOOCs, are effective if students actually work hard, according to a new study and Captain Obvious.

Forgive the snarkiness; the new research does truly amount to a win for the pro-MOOC camp, and it helps silence MOOC-detractors who say the online courses are less effective than traditional, in-person classes.

As reported by the Chronicle for Higher Education, a study published this month by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found that students in the MOOC version of a physics course learned at similar rates as students in the on-campus version.

They also found that students who weren’t particularly well-prepared for the course (such as having a relevant educational background) still learned at the same rate as students who were more well-prepared, as long as they committed substantial time to the coursework.

That does not mean the less-prepared students actually performed as well as the more-prepared students. Many of them got significantly lower grades, but they still showed the same evidence of learning.

As Steve Kolowich at the Chronicle writes, critics of MOOCs have alleged that students without significant educational background will not learn much from impersonal, online courses. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, according to this research.

To me, that particular finding is unsurprising. If I studied Wikipedia pages on art history for a couple hours a day, I would learn. If I watched enough instructional videos on YouTube about skateboarding, I would learn.

What is much more significant, in my mind (and the study authors agreed), is that it’s possible for MOOC enrollees to learn just as quickly as their on-campus counterparts. The results of this study could very well chip away at the skepticism over MOOCs and further accelerate adoption of this technology.

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.