The Openculture website lists 750 American courses: you can follow a Yale professor discussing the American Civil War — in Youghal. Hundreds of offerings are available through the UK Open University’s Openlearn website, and through the business-focused Alison.com. MOOCs go a step further. (Massive is a nerd-word: it means anybody can enrol. Most courses are short.)
Online presentations are linked with email groups which provide weekly study materials and enable students to communicate and take tests — all free. There is no diploma, but a completed progress page may impress employers.
Anybody with broadband can follow courses on their computer or smartphone. There is no substitute for face-to-face on-campus study, but students planning to go to college can experience the atmosphere of a lecture hall, learn to take notes and sample subjects not available at school. The UK has just launched FutureLearn, with introductory MOOCs ranging from climate change and forensic science to dentistry and Richard III. Educators and policy-makers, take note: all this is available, without charge, here in Ireland.
Third level needs resources to establish an advisory service, to offer guidance through the jungle of availability, and advice on using MOOCs to prepare for college. Could library services provide discussion groups to support isolated viewer-learners? Internet courses are mainly US and UK focused.
Sligo IT plans an engineering course here, but funding is needed for a package of Irish Studies MOOCs to tell the world about Ireland’s culture, government and history, maybe in partnership with FutureLearn. Prof Brian Lucey called for this (Irish Examiner, Jan 26), but has anything happened? Let’s ensure that MOOCs are not another development where Ireland lags behind.