09 January 2013

Education and Social Networks: The MOOC

An often touched upon subject with regards to social networks is its added value to the person. The word "value" in terms of social media is often associated to business and brand building.

Promotions and marketing programs of brands and business, status updates of friends and loved ones, general news and social concerns make up a majority of the content social media delivers.

But what about the well-being and growth of a person? How can social media contribute to this?

Massive Online Open Courses or MOOC may be the answer.

Early last year, MIT and Harvard announced a collaboration to offer free online education to people anywhere in the world. The edX program is an interactive learning program delivered via the web.

The difference with the MOOC and traditional online courses is that MOOCs are usually free, open to anyone and that the enrollment is not limited to a certain number of students. It is also different from previous free lectures offered by universities in that at the end of the course, the student earns a certificate of completion from the participating university.

Last fall, around 370,000 persons enrolled for the edX program. 46,000 in one subject alone (a course on machine learning).

But how does this relate to social media? Social media is defined in Wikipedia as a "means of interactions among people in which they create, share, exchange and comment contents among themselves in virtual communities and networks".

The way MOOCs are designed, students are encouraged to group and network together through social networking, similar to study groups but it isn't bound by geography, culture, or demographic. It fosters communication and interaction not just with the learning program but with the members themselves, just like Facebook or Twitter.

Granted that it won't attract the numbers social networks have but it is a start. To get an idea of how a social network grows, Twitter took three years before it experienced massive growth. In a New York Times article about Massive Online Open Courses, Andrew Ng of Coursera (a tuition based MOOC) stated that enrollment on the site has reached more than 1.7 million — growing “faster than Facebook,”.

It may take awhile until education and learning enters the mainstream in social networking but looking at it in a different perspective, the goals and mechanics are the same.

It is almost similar to a MMORPG like World of Warcraft but instead of quests and the promise of an epic reward, one gets assignments and a certificate of completion at the end. But an epic reward from WoW is virtual and becomes useless and the quest is forgotten as the game progresses, unlike a real item like a certificate of completion as well as the knowledge one learns from learning something new.