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Global learning network

LMU to present MOOCs

Munich, 02/21/2013

This summer LMU presents its first Massive Open Online Courses to a worldwide audience. LMU President Professor Huber discusses LMU’s partnership with Coursera, and the potential social impact of MOOCs.

Coursera - Foto: lisegagne / istockphoto.com
Photo: lisegagne / istockphoto.com

The pace of technological advance as reflected in the expansion of Massive Open Online Courses has led many people to speak in terms of a “revolutionary” development. LMU has just entered into a partnership with Coursera, one of the leading online platforms for MOOCs. What changes do you expect MOOCs to bring to universities themselves?
Bernd Huber: These new technologies make it possible to inspire an enthusiasm for science and scholarship in large numbers of people who, for political, geographical, economic or personal reasons, would otherwise have no access to higher learning or academic studies. MOOCs give people who are eager to extend their horizons an unprecedented opportunity to further their education, to learn scientific modes of thought, to develop their intellectual potential, and radically alter their social situation. One of the speakers at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month was a 12-year-old girl from Pakistan, who had taken several online courses devised by American elite universities without leaving her home in Lahore. For her, and others like her, MOOCs open up wholly new possibilities of taking charge of one’s own life.

What persuaded you that LMU should get involved? What does the University stand to gain?
MOOCs enable us to broadcast, in a very literal sense, the results of our researches, and the ideas behind them, to the world. LMU’s involvement in this innovative global development represents an enormous opportunity, not least because we can learn a great deal along the way – about the new forms of learning and teaching that digital technologies make possible, and perhaps inevitable. For today’s youngsters are growing up as “digital natives”; new media are already part of their normal environment. In presenting our own wares on this new channel, we want to take an active part in charting the future of virtual learning. And if the courses designed by our faculty succeed in attracting dedicated students from all over the world, and perhaps allow us to forge longer-term links with some of them, that would be a terrific boon for the academic community at our University.

At a recent conference, your colleague Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, suggested that MOOCs would completely transform the present university landscape. Would you agree with that assessment?
These new teaching and learning formats will certainly stir up the international university landscape. MOOCs give virtually everyone the opportunity to benefit from a university education – and many people will ask themselves why they should pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a college education, as is often the case in the US, when they can take online courses emanating from the most famous universities for free. Many universities will then be forced to reconsider many aspects of their product and their business model.

Does this mean that the traditional university has had its day?
I regard MOOCs not as a supplement, but as a valuable complement to the other types of courses that we offer. Learning in virtual discussion groups cannot replace, and will not displace, the culture of face-to-face discussion that characterizes a university campus. Look at it this way. If you want to become a dentist, you have to acquire the medical knowledge that underpins the profession, and that can, perhaps, be done in an online course. But to be able to practice dentistry, you also have to learn how to perform dental surgery, and for that you need hands-on training, under the direct supervision of an experienced specialist – a highly qualified professor. Of course, the basic argument also holds for a budding physicist or ethnologist. To fully comprehend any area of study, learning and understanding the necessary theoretical background is important, but it is only the first step. In addition, one has to explore the theory and apply it in practical settings – and here again the availability of direct feedback from sympathetic academic mentors is of indispensable value.

Learn more about Coursera at www.coursera.org.

For further information on LMU‘s MOOCs and how to access them via the Coursera portal, visit www.lmu.de/moocs.

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