Knowledge is power

On a personal level, I struggle with understanding the criticism of open courses within traditional educational systems.  In the prehospital provider world, EMTs and Paramedics are required to maintain their certification through continuing education credits, or CEs.  There are typically one hour courses that are either paid for one at a time, or are provided free of charge as a sort of marketing effort by tertiary care centers.  Each level of prehospital provider must meet specific re-certification requirements every two years in order to maintain their state and / or national certifications (If you want to see the recertification requirements, click here).  This is the system I work within and think it is a great method of maintaining competency and experience, while introducing new content to experienced providers.  The only drawback is the content can get stale after a few re-certification cycles.

Title screen shotFortunately there are a variety of new educational opportunities developing within the distance education environment.  One of these I have used extensively is Kahn Academy.  Described as “…a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere” (Kahn Academy, 2013), this website has literally thousands of short educational videos that can work as foundational knowledge for more complex topics.  I have also found them to be a valuable resource as alternative perspectives of complicated issues.  I recently built a one hour CE course on allergies and anaphylaxis that included two Kahn Academy videos (according to their fair use policy).  These videos succinctly described the immune system and how inflammation occurs which contributes to anaphylaxis.  As a learning experience, this ability to efficiently impart information is extremely important.  Also, the narration provided by Salman Kahn, meets a design expectation of equivalency theory to “…make equivalent the learning experiences of all students no matter how they are linked to the resources or instruction they require” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, Zvacek, 2012).

The specific example I have described is one reason open courses are useful to the adult learner, but it is a very narrow view of the larger issue.  To get a better perspective, I think you have to consider why people take open courses in the first place.  One article posted on the Time magazine website sought to illustrate the global enrollment in open courses.  When the author asked her online classmates where they were from, she received responses that “…includes students who say they are from Paraguay to Pakistan, India to Ghana, Indonesia to Iraq, to Morocco, to Nigeria, to Australia, to Serbia, and the list goes on” (Webley, 2012).  So accessibility to advanced knowledge certainly seems to be a demand, but Ms. Webley asked “…why are all these people taking a course that provides nothing more than a certificate of completion?” (2012).  The responses were varied, but most focused on personal development within a related field, like computer science.

This accessibility to advanced knowledge, regardless of overall usefulness on a personal level, is what seems to drive enrollment.  Borje Homberg considers this as one of his eight parts of distance education theory.  “Society benefits from distance education, on the one hand, from the liberal study opportunities it affords individual learners, and, on the other hand, from the professional / occupational training it provides” (Simonson, et al. 2012).  This concept is reinforced by one of Ms. Webley’s classmates in her “Securing Digital Democracy” course:

 “Nnenna Nwakanma, who lives in Cote d’Ivoire, said she is in charge of an organization that recently used an online voting system for its elections. She also works as a consultant on policy, human rights and citizen engagement in developing nations. “Having been critically involved in some democracy and election initiatives, I was not just keen to get a handle on the security aspects of democracy, but also to share and learn from others,” Nwakanma wrote” (Webley, 2012).

I may be a little sentimental here, but I have high hopes for the evolution of MOOCs and how our society uses them.  “Knowledge is power.  Information is liberating.  Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family” (Annan, 1997.)



Annan, K. (1997).  Global Knowledge ’97 [online text of speech].  Retrieved August 2, 2013 from

Kahn Academy (2013).  About:  A free world-class education for anyone anywhere [webpage].  Retrieved August 2, 2013 from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., Zvacek, S. (2012).  Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed).  Boston, MA:  Laureate Education, Inc.

Webley, K. (2012).  MOOC brigade:  Who is taking massive open online courses, and why? [online article].  Time U.S.  Retrieved August 2, 2013 from


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