Why Your Kids Should MOOC


It’s an absurd little word that sounds like the mating call of a moose. In truth, it’s an acronym for an online educational resource that’s trending in universities and becoming a valuable educational tool for students of all ages. It’s also a tool you might consider utilizing as a parent, especially if your child needs skill supplementation, enrichment, or merely an outlet with an educational spin.

MOOC stands for massive open online course, a concept developed by George Siemens, a Canadian educator and Stephen Downes, an information architect (someone who organizes shared information into meaningful order through websites and other multimedia). In 2008, they introduced the first MOOC, a free course that was open to the public, the international public.  Like a traditional college course, course information was delivered by a credible professor with distinct difference. Students, tens of thousands of them, listened to the professor lecture through a series of short, online videos. To test comprehension, students were given assignments, online quizzes, or writing assignments and discussions that had to be developed or posted online through the MOOC.

The MOOC, innovative as a design, was meant to give greater access to students who wanted to learn but because of financial or geographical constraints couldn’t take a college-level course. But it had limitations. Without face-to-face contact with a teacher, it was thought that many students wouldn’t complete the course. And those that did wouldn’t be able to develop a real concept mastery.

Since the first MOOC in 2008, the number, quality, and diversification of the MOOC has expanded. There are MOOCs offered by almost every major university in the US and internationally and on any possible subject. While some MOOCs are designed with more general interests in mind, others address technically intricate subjects such as computer programming. The best part about MOOCs is the cost. Most are free and those offered for a fee are more affordable to the masses. Some universities have designed entire accredited programs in the MOOC platform. And, for those parents of young or adolescent children, MOOCs are now made with primary and secondary school children in mind.

Some schools are already using the MOOC to help students learn basic skills. In certain cases, schools have redesigned the classroom to include the MOOC. Known as a “flipped classroom” format, students watch short videos at home that cover new concepts. During the school day, the classroom is where homework and higher-level thinking is taught. The teacher’s role is less of a lecturer and more of a guide, one who teaches students how to integrate new concepts into big ideas and into problem-solving techniques.

Results from flipped classroom are remarkable. For those schools and teachers who use the MOOC as part of the classroom approach, test scores have improved by nearly 25 percent. Students learn better in this open-exploration type of learning, feel less stressed with the “home work” put before them, and really feel that they’re learning during the classroom period.

Even if your school district or individual school doesn’t use MOOCs as part of its curriculum, there are a number of reasons why you should consider introducing it at home as an educational resource for your child.

It enriches and challenges. Is your child on the upper end of the spectrum and a behavioral problem in class? Does he seemingly ace tests? Does he need little time to master concepts? Does school seem boring or do the teachers seem stupid or incompetent to him? For some children, those whose neurological processing places them in the top ten percent of the population, the traditional classroom where your child sits for seven to eight hours of lecture can be downright boring and non-productive. For this type of child, a challenge or an intellectually stimulating activity might be a solution. Getting your child registered in an emotionally/intellectually appropriate MOOC can enhance and spark excitement. It can also challenge your child, build confidence, and jumpstart his love for learning. In some cases, a MOOC offers college credit.

It encourages independent learning: Has your child ever complained “we don’t learn anything,” or after an exam, “the teacher didn’t teach us that?” Well, most likely the teacher did teach your child the concept, but in many cases, a child doesn’t have the skills to actively learn the material. And from personal experience, many kids don’t know how to be independent learners. As a teacher, I frequently meet students who are used to being spoon-fed concepts and expect those same concepts to be tested and regurgitated on exams. When test questions ask students to analyze concepts learned or to apply those concepts to higher-level problem solving, many of my students freeze. The MOOC, by its design, encourages students to work independently, provides online assignments that frame the information in such a way that students process and apply knowledge to more global problems. Some MOOCs include discussion threads where kids can post assignments and receive immediate feedback from the MOOC instructor and from other students taking the MOOC. Imagine how excited your child might be to receive feedback from a student in Singapore?

Here’s another consideration. If your child can teach what he knows to someone else, if he or she can explain a concept, that child is actively learning and integrating knowledge. It’s what’s known in education as metacognition. That’s where you want your child to be.

It supplements a weak student: Some students simply can’t learn in a traditional classroom where the instructor lectures and the student is responsible for passively taking notes. Sometimes, my students couldn’t keep up with the lectures, couldn’t figure out how to summarize or pick the most important details for note taking. If a child isn’t an auditory learner (one who learns through listening) or if a child has a processing disorder, material delivered through lectures can be lost. MOOCs break down material into short lectures on videotape. The student learns basic concepts through the lectures and then practices these new concepts through interactive assignments or games.

One great MOOC, one I recommend and view with students struggling to master new concepts is Khan Academy. One of the earliest MOOC examples, Khan Academy offers hundreds of free videos that cover science, technology, mathematics, English, social studies, analytical reasoning, and standardized test preparation. It offers videotaped instruction for kids as young as kindergarten and well into college. (Honestly, I watch those videos too, especially before coaching a student.) Recently, I used it to help a student who simply couldn’t understand the rules of exponents, and how and when to apply those rules. The videos didn’t simply provide lectures. Using an black board drawing tool, the instructor presented the rules, showed different exponent problems, and applied the rules as he solved the problem. By the end of the videos, my students had a proverbial light bulb over his head and was willing to test out what he’d learned on his homework. (Note: the Khan Academy video might load slowly depending upon your browser. If you want to see the Rules of Exponents videos at Khan Academy, click here.)


Khan Academy also encourages STEM learning, a nice acronym for science, technology, engineering, mathematics. Any MOOC or course that encourages a love of STEM in my child, I want to be part of. And you should too.

The reports on education in the United States are abysmal. In a test given to 5,100 15-year-old students from 65 countries, the United States ranked 23 or 24 in most subjects and 27 in math and science. What this means is that your child will probably be ill-prepared to compete in the global economy. (NYTimes. 12/7/10). Forbes Magazine reported that girls are truly at a deficit with a STEM education. “Women hold nearly half of all jobs in the U.S., but less than 25 percent of all STEM jobs. The study cites a lack of female role models in STEM professions and gender stereotyping as key reasons for gender disparity in STEM-related fields.”

As a parent, those results should disturb you, especially if you’re raising daughters. The report further states that more female role models in STEM careers are needed to encourage more girls to enter those fields. Registering your child on MOOCs that focus on STEM education is a first step and a way to send an important message to your child. Science and math-based subjects are important and girls can be just as successful as boys.

Now that you know the benefits, how can you find MOOCs that fit your child’s emotional/academic needs? While most major universities offer MOOC-type courses, for primary and secondary targeted students, you want to check out MOOC repositories. Companies such as EdX, a joint partnership between MIT and Harvard University offers thousands of courses. Also, one website, MOOCs.com, provides current news on the MOOC industry, what’s new, what’s good for your child’s age group, and what courseware companies have what you’re looking for.

Despite criticisms you might hear about the MOOC, it has tremendous educational benefit, especially for primary and secondary school students. And even if your child’s school doesn’t offer the MOOC as part of its curriculum, as a parent, you should consider introducing it at home to your child. You can do much to foster a love of learning in your child. For not much expense, you can also enrich or support your child’s education.

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About Merle Huerta

Merle Huerta is a staff writer with Kars4Kids.org, a teacher, tutor, a retired army wife, and a mother of a blended family of 13.

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