Ankit Khandelwal is a true MOOC enthusiast. After graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, he realized he wanted to work in global business, but traditional business school was too expensive and offered no guarantee of getting him where he wanted to be. Instead, Ankit dedicated himself to MOOCs full time for two years, following a self-designed course plan he called “Envisioning the 21st Century Global Manager.” It spanned more than 10 universities and providers and covered topics from trade negotiation to foreign languages. Now, Ankit is writing a book about his experience, while also researching and promoting the online learning industry. He recently spoke to CourseTalk about the value of MOOCs, where he sees online education going and how he uses CourseTalk to enhance his learning experience.
Your MOOC Experience:
What interested you about MOOCs initially?
I had taken courses from MIT OpenCourseWare since 2007 to fulfill my different interests. I had mixed my core field of education with chemical engineering and other areas like management and public policy.
In 2012, when I heard about MOOCs for the very first time, I was skeptical about how top universities could offer courses for free. I decided to take a course to test the new platform. It was slightly difficult in the first week to adapt to a new style of learning. Video lectures were sufficient for conveying course topics and generated my curiosity to study further, but the discussion forum was the truly invaluable asset from my first MOOC courses. Even if adjusting to a learning community of close to 50,000 students proved to be tricky at times, the majority of times discussions were amazing. One can always find like-minded people, subject experts, problem solvers or even an amateur learner. After that, I did not look back and have taken an extensive number of courses to fulfill my learning needs.
How are you finding and deciding what courses to take?
Finding courses has never been a difficult task. I am part of a lot of discussion groups on Facebook/LinkedIn related to each course, where information is exchanged regularly on newly-launched courses or developments related to MOOCs. Later, when I discovered CourseTalk, it became much easier to get all the information in a single place. Most of the courses I have taken were related directly or indirectly to my “Envisioning the 21st Century Global Manager” learning plan.
Before taking any course, I always check the syllabus, objectives and outcomes as given in the course description. In some courses, I have also checked the possibility of applying knowledge to the real world. If the course has been offered before, I also read course reviews.
What are the benefits of learning online versus in a traditional classroom or a corporate training session?
Although I do not like to compare, taking online courses for the past two years has given me some insight on how online learning can benefit you:
First, online learning is very flexible, and anyone can customize the learning schedule according to his convenience. It is also helpful that learners can rewind a video lecture as many times as they want before understanding an entire concept. Instead of enrolling in an entire program, a person can enroll in just a particular subject of interest. MOOCs can also serve as a boon to the people who cannot commit to university education due to financial or time constraints.
In a traditional university, many students’ focus is getting a good grade. With MOOCs, it is totally in our own interest to finish the course and do the assignments, so if someone is pursuing a course till the end, he is definitely motivated.
Another benefit of MOOCs is that the globalized classroom brings a perspective impossible to find in a traditional university classroom.
Most importantly, in MOOCs, I could start applying my knowledge in the real world immediately, unlike with traditional education, where I had to wait until I finished my degree for such excitement.
What factors convince you to complete a course? Audit a course? Drop a course?
The desire to gain knowledge and a dedication to continuing to the end are the two important things that hold me to completing any course. Another other major factor is whether I am applying my knowledge in the real world. For example, there was a 10-week economics course in which not much interaction happened after the third week, but I started to study economic survey reports and budget calculations to put theories into practice. This motivated me to continue till the end. For me, dropping a course is usually either due to time constraints (more than three good courses cannot be done at at time) or the class not matching my learning needs. In one course, I wanted a more practical approach and the course turned out to be theoretical, so I had to drop it.
Perspective on the Online Learning Market:
Where do you think online learning is headed over the next three to five years?
I think online learning is going to grow a lot in the future. My reasons for saying this are:
To what extent do you think MOOCs will become a part of accredited degree and certificate programs?
I’d like to use the word e-learning here instead of MOOC just for a moment. E-learning is already part of university and corporate systems. On an informal basis, webinars and e-communication are gaining ground. So, I see MOOCs as just the next step in this entire system. Developing nations will take the lead in accepting MOOCs as part of the system. Recently, the Indian government announced it will launch its own portal for online courses with plans to provide certificates and degrees in the future. MOOCs are going to present an opportunity to people who are not yet part of the education system. However, I do not think that MOOCs will replace universities in any way. Instead, they will just complement them in providing education.
CourseTalk Course Review Platform and Beyond:
What advice do you have for new CourseTalk users?
If you’re new to MOOCs, think of CourseTalk like a supermarket you are entering for the first time. You know there is good stuff inside, but you do not know what. What do you generally do in such a case? You roam around a bit, explore the products, check the available information and compare the prices before finally finding something worth purchasing. Similarly, visit CourseTalk, check information on the courses offered and read the reviews to find if there is something for you. Once you are convinced, register for the course.
If you’re a first-time CourseTalk user already familiar with MOOCs, think of CourseTalk like an airline reservation system. Here, you know where you want to go, and the website helps you find the best options using different parameters. Similarly, CourseTalk is the place where information is customized to fulfill your different needs. It has excellent coverage of courses offered, course reviews and further guidance tools to help in finding the best learning options.
Why do you write reviews on CourseTalk? What’s driving you?
I follow the quote by Steve Jobs, in which he says he always got help when he asked for it and in return he helped everyone who asked him for help. It was my dream to become a global manager, and I could not fulfill it with conventional education. But the universities involved in MOOCs and OpenCourseWare helped me to achieve my dream without many hurdles. By writing reviews, I am just trying to give back to the universities and other learners.
In your opinion, what is the importance or value of reviewing online courses?
Reviewing a course means providing a sort of mentorship to future students. It’s like when you enter a university for the first time, there is always someone more senior telling you which professor likes what. Reviewers are the same people. They are acting as upperclassmen, telling you the essence of the course and its level of difficulty and helping you get the most out of it.
How do you think course reviews impact professors’ teaching styles?
Unfortunately, I did not get chance to take any courses twice. But I do believe professors look at reviews very carefully and will experiment with new ideas based on the feedback received. So far, most courses are offered by U.S. universities, and they often miss the context of other countries. I think this will change in the near future when professors will include different ideas depending on class composition.
How would you encourage users to write MOOC reviews?
I would show them my two-year project and tell them how I benefited from this new platform and the role of reviewers in it. They, too, can get help from others and can help someone else through their reviews. After all, the core ideology behind the MOOC is “knowledge for all,” and I think each one of us should take our part with utter sincerity.