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Regional

Published: Sunday March 3, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday April 18, 2013 MYT 1:03:41 AM

Online study trend growing

THE online learning trend is growing steadily in Singapore, with more than 20,000 people having signed up for free courses offered by top foreign universities like Stanford and Harvard.

Young adults form the bulk of users, and business and IT-related courses appear to be the most popular.

Last week, the National University of Singapore (NUS) became the first university here to jump on the bandwagon of massive open online courses (MOOC).

It announced that it would offering two courses on the platform of Coursera, a major US-based online education provider.

It is estimated that millions of people worldwide have plugged into this new learning channel, which offers courses ranging from science and mathematics to music and film.

These courses are offered in partnership with universities, including big names like Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

While the MOOC trend has not caught on in a big way like in the United States, there has been a spike in the number of users here in recent months.

A check with three main US-based online education platforms – Coursera, Udemy and EdX – shows that there are more than 20,000 users here.

Like in other countries, males in their 20s and 30s form the bulk of MOOC users in Singapore.

Although most courses are free, these sites try to make money in other ways, such as charging licensing fees for companies wishing to use the courses commercially, certification fees, advertisements and providing recruitment data to employers.

While there are more plugged into MOOC, this new form of learning has yet to take off in a big way here. One possible reason may be the lack of a strong culture of lifelong learning, said Dr Cho Hichang, a professor of communications and new media at NUS.

Most employers also view such online courses as “additional merits” which are not essential, he added.

The rigour and effectiveness of this form of learning is also being debated.

There tends to be little interaction between users and lecturers – as well as among the learners – and assignments are usually peer-graded.

The fact that it is free also means that some may not be motivated enough to complete the course.

The high “dropout” rate among MOOC users underscores this problem. Completion rates range from 5 to 20%, as figures from Coursera, Udemy and edX show.

But the “success” rate can go up to as high as 50% for “active” students who complete at least one assignment or quiz.

Adrian Chan, 31, is among those who found it tough to complete his online course.

He signed up for Think Again: How to Reason and Argue on Coursera’s platform last November, but sat through only four out of 12 lectures.

“No one is sitting beside you as you take quizzes and write essays, so no one can really verify your answers,” said Chan, a bank employee.

“And it is quite difficult to spend a few hours weekly on a course when there are work commitments.”

But if he had paid for the course, he would have been more motivated to complete it, he added.

The online model works better for some courses – like science and mathematics – than others in the humanities that require critical thinking and debate, said Dr Cho.

“The sheer number of students makes it just not possible for lecturers to interact directly with them,” he added.

Despite its imperfections, experts believe that online learning will grow, with more realising the importance of professional and lifelong learning. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

Tags / Keywords: Regional, News, World, Singapore

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