Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) have attracted a lot of publicity of late. A uni lecturer I know referred to it as MOOC-mania tonight, in this tweet:

The description seems pretty close to the mark and a discussion ensued, with one participant referring to uni administrators as looking very much like the print media industry, and the music industry before them:

UPDATE: I agree with this assessment.

In my opinion, the real possibilities of the MOOC are for people indulging their interests more casually rather than those looking for more formal education. While there is a longer term prospect of the value of properly assessed uni degrees being subsumed by MOOCs, it probably remains some way off.

Nonetheless, I am interested in the opportunities and challenges of MOOCs, and decided to take up a couple of courses over the next few months to see what unfolds. I have previously enrolled in a beginner’s computer science course with Udacity, but I couldn’t really get into it. I ended up just ignoring most of the emails in favour of more immediate and proximal needs. But I figure its worth another go, if for no other reason than to indulge a few interests while other parts of my life are a bit quieter.

The first course I am enrolled in starts next week. It is an Introduction to Astronomy class offered by Coursera. I was attracted to Coursera because it is the largest and most diverse of the three main competitors in the MOOC field, the others being Udacity and Edx. The major drawback of Coursera for me is that it lacks an iPad app, which is frustrating given the ease of iPad computing and the role it already plays in my life in delivering content like podcasts, videos and emails. If my Astronomy course goes well, I plan to follow it with Generating the Wealth of Nations early next year. Join me if you like!