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MOOCs vs Online University Programmes: What's the Difference?

MOOCs vs Online University Programmes: What's the Difference?


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a global trend on the rise. More than 4.5 million students were enrolled in MOOCs at the end of last year, with some six million expected to participate by 2015. Online access to credit-bearing university courses and programmes is also gaining momentum – so what’s the difference between the two?

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is the first South African university set to launch a series of MOOCs early next year, in partnership with British-based MOOC provider, FutureLearn. UCT will join leading universities from around the world including Harvard, Stanford, Yale and M.I.T. in adding this pioneering form of learning delivery to their offering. 

Worldwide online access to university education is breaking ground in a new  distance learning space, one that’s fast preparing to overtake the more “traditional” methods of delivery. As more and more top-tier universities get onboard with learning of this nature, online access to first-class education is set to revolutionise the way the world learns. . 

Locally, UCT is leading the way in the area of access to online university courses and programmes. UCT has been presenting short courses in partnership with online education company GetSmarter since 2008, and is currently preparing for the launch of the continent’s first two prestigious Postgraduate Diplomas to be presented entirely online – the UCT Postgraduate Diploma in Management in Marketing and the UCT Advanced Diploma in Business Project Management – commencing in February next year. 

Lifelong learning has become an increasingly important concept. People are hungry for knowledge. But what is the difference between a MOOC and online access to university courses or programmes, and what should you be taking into consideration when pursuing further education online? 

Rob Paddock, Chief Academic Officer of GetSmarter, explains that while they are usually free to attend with limited barriers to entry, the average completion rates of MOOCs sit anywhere between 0,4% - 6%. MOOCs function on the notion that learners drive their own education, with the objective to increase their knowledge base. As such, learners must be self-motivated to participate on and complete the courses. 

Dependant on subject matter, thousands of students participate on a course at a time, and while experts commend the opportunity for peer-learning, feedback is partial and there is little support and coaching throughout the learning experience. 

 “Of course, other factors also contribute to the large drop-off rate seen by these courses, and MOOCs remain an invaluable knowledge source”, said Paddock. “They feature interactive online forums that can involve hundreds of students in peer-to-peer discussions, as well as access to video lectures and course materials in online format that allow for mass learner participation.”

“Although generally they do not result in formal accreditation, the material remains endorsed by the respective university. MOOCs provide indisputable access to first class learning material worldwide to those who may not otherwise have had the privilege of learning with top-tier educational institutions.” 

Paddock explained that in the case of paid -for online access to university courses and programmes, as with UCT and GetSmarter, student numbers are controlled to ensure extensive engagement with subject matter experts. Every learner is allocated a Coach, Technical Support Team and a Subject Matter Expert for the full duration of the course or programme. Feedback on assignments is personalised, and qualitative. 

“Support of this nature ensures that learners remain motivated throughout their online learning journey. In our experience, average completion rates are as high as 94% in contrast to those of MOOCs. The courses and programmes are also fully accredited, carrying the same weight in industry as those acquired on-campus or via traditional distance learning methods.”   

In selecting which online learning format is right for you, it’s important to assess what it is that you are looking to get out of your participation on an online course or programme.  MOOCs are largely self-motivated, and provide a solution for individuals seeking a structured learning environment. Yet, they should be pursued primarily as a method to increase ones knowledge base. In a cut-throat business environment, career advancement and new job opportunities are still often reliant on credit-bearing accreditation that result from online university courses and programmes.   

Do you want to advance your career with one of these pioneering online qualifications? Know more and download a comprehensive information pack for the part-time programme you could be using to gain a competitive career advantage:
UCT Postgraduate Diploma in Management in Marketing
UCT Advanced Diploma in Business Project Management 

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