Learn from the best—for free


Right now a woman sitting at her kitchen table in Marietta can participate in the same digital sound design course—taught by Emory University professor Steve Everett—as a man at his desk in Delhi, India, without either of them having to pay a cent or leave their homes. The logistics are made possible by MOOCs—massive open online courses.

This revolutionary teaching method, which has received millions in funding from donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, took hold in 2012 and is predicted to be a major trend in higher education in coming years. Georgia Tech offered its first MOOCs in fall 2012 through Coursera—one of the largest providers of the innovative courses, with upwards of 200 programs from more than thirty universities. Emory joined Coursera in January 2013. Currently Georgia Tech offers nine MOOCs, and Emory has three.

Unlike online courses that are taken for credit (and require tuition payments), MOOCs don’t provide participants with individualized feedback on assignments or university-monitored discussion boards. This self-contained approach “will have the most benefit to people who are working and have other careers but want to learn more,” says Polly J. Price, a professor of law at Emory University who is teaching a MOOC on immigration and U.S. citizenship this spring.

Kimberley Hagen, assistant director of the Center for AIDS Research at Emory University and the instructor for a MOOC that focuses on AIDS, says it took her “about a nanosecond” to agree to teach the course.

“This gives me a chance to raise awareness and bring attention to various stigmas,” says Hagen. “It can increase participants’ information on AIDS and adjust their attitudes.”

There are concerns about the future of MOOCs. “The major challenge will be a monetary one,” says Hagen. While participants in MOOCs don’t pay tuition, there is a cost to produce the courses.

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  • Shari

    I have read several articles indicating problems associated with this type of “free” training. I would like to begin by saying as a participant in MOOCs I am very grateful for the opportunity and experience to participate in such an experiment. However, I would like to point out that I do not participate for free. I spend many hours, usually more than the professor recommends, participating in this on line class. I spend other hours talking about it to colleagues, friends and family (read: free advertising for the professors, their schools, their books, etc). I spend even more hours going to TED TV and other sites looking for more information on the topics that are covered.

    I realize that money is important to everyone, but it is not the only thing that makes the world turn. Maybe it is OK for people to give of their time so that others may learn and hopefully encourage others to do the same.

    I volunteer for my neighborhood association as well as my professional organization and completely understand how much time and energy it takes to even get a small program off the ground, let alone what they are doing with the MOOCS (I cannot image the amount of time it takes). So again, I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in these activities, but do not think either side of the equation are doing it for “free”.

    It also must be a good experience for the staff and students who volunteer to help produce the MOOCs. If I were involved, I most certainly would add it to my resume.

    Maybe the professors and staff need more feedback about what a wonderful and incredibly generous thing it is that they are doing. I thank you all and appreciate your time and energy. You are truly inspirational. Keep up the amazing work in helping to make the world a better place to live in.