Coding MOOCs and the future of education
February 17, 2022

The era of flexible education is here - but will it survive?

In 30 seconds...

Massive Online Open Courses are a creative solution to some of the problems of traditional learning. But, they are not without their drawbacks. Learn more about MOOCs and how we can help them thrive.

The era of flexible education is here. Creative learning solutions aren’t just a faraway ideal, they are becoming increasingly necessary. The ‘traditional’ manners of teaching have been forced to change - nothing made this clearer than the COVID-19 pandemic. With many switching to online learning, MOOCs; Massive Open Online Courses have grown in popularity over the past decade - since 2012, when MOOCs burst onto the scene, they have acquired 220 million learners (excluding China), and over 3100 courses

However, flexible learning approaches like MOOCs, bring their own set of challenges. Switching to this style means educators’ tools should be easy to use and able to accommodate modern needs. In this article, we’ll dig deeper into MOOC learning, its benefits, and what’s needed to make it succeed, specifically for coding education.  

Advantages and Disadvantages of MOOCs

MOOCs have promised many benefits. Firstly, their open access to all those with internet helps promote more equal education. This also allows learners to connect on the global level. Secondly, learners can experiment with their interests before committing to, for example, a university degree. Thirdly, many MOOCs have social networking sites, so those enrolled can learn from each other and collaborate. Also, MOOCs are a great way to experiment with new pedagogical methods and collect data on what works and what does not.  Finally, many MOOCs are asynchronous, meaning students can choose the pace of their learning. This is also extremely beneficial for those learning skills like coding at a later age. Computer science is starting much earlier in many education systems, but this hasn’t always been the case. Older generations have been left out of this trend. You can learn to code at any age, and the lack of earlier CS education should not dissuade or inhibit you from learning! MOOCs help make this possible, as you have the opportunity to learn, say, Python, alongside your current job and at your own pace. 

On top of the benefits for students, flexible learning hugely benefits teachers. For coding, a customizable grading and learning system can ease the burden of manual grading, saving time and resources. This is nothing short of necessary. Schools are facing more teacher vacancies than ever, often as a result of stress, which skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a small-scale study, flexibility was the most highly ranked factor that would keep teachers in the classroom, even above higher pay. 

There are, of course, some disadvantages. MOOCs face extremely high dropout rates - a drawback of their open and free nature. Student engagement can differ vastly depending on both the course and the student, yet keeping learners engaged and consistently motivated for an online course is a legitimate concern (especially for coding!). Yet, this is not an inherent feature of MOOCs - paired with high-quality instructional design and support tools, this can be remedied! Another concern is academic integrity. MOOCs have to assess learners online, making it easy for learners to plagiarize answers and confer with peers. In fact, new methods of cheating have been developed specifically for MOOCs such as CAMEO; Copying Answers using Multiple Existences Online. Maintaining academic integrity will boost the validity of MOOCs and be crucial in their success. 

Learn how to make your coding class more flexible with CodeGrade!

UNIR's Massive Online Open Course

Let’s look at an example MOOC. We spoke to Dr. Luis de la Fuente Valentín, an assistant professor at the Universidad Internacional de la Rioja (UNIR), the largest Spanish-speaking private online university, with students around the world and offices in Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and the United States. Luis is in charge of the continuous improvement of teaching and learning, and course design of a new free teacherless MOOC course in Python Programming. Offered free of charge and available for over 1000 Computer Science students, this program was a creative solution to financial constraints.    

This course is a great example of how common drawbacks of MOOCs can be remedied with the right tools. Learning to program is a very daunting task. At the start, even setting up your coding environment is intimidating and often confusing. This is where the choice of tools comes into play. For example, an easy-to-use editor fast tracks students’ to begin their coding journey straight away, which is especially useful for students with no CS background. 

For programming courses, especially teacherless ones, the quality of assignments is paramount. UNIR’s free Python course lasts 8 weeks and has biweekly assignments and creating clear, easy-to-follow assignments was crucial. Also, given the scale of the course, having these assignments automatically graded allowed students to receive timely, specific, and continuous feedback - a cornerstone of learning (learn more about formative feedback here!).  

Without a doubt, persistence is a key factor to learn programming. Facing a relentless stream of error messages when attempting your first coding assignment is not fun. A sophisticated system that can filter out unnecessary error messages, and focus on beginner aspects of coding can be a lifesaver in this situation. As a consequence of these features, students are more likely to stay motivated and engaged, ensuring they don’t fall victim to MOOCs' high attrition rates.

Student motivation can be boosted with sophisticated error messages

Tools like this directly benefit courses with teachers too. Having to download each student submission, unzip it, run it, leave specific feedback, re-upload it and manually enter grades is immensely time-consuming in small classes, and simply not feasible in larger ones. Having a learning system streamline this process and report grades directly, saves time for course teachers and helps make teacherless courses function efficiently.  

Integration is a make-or-break element of adopting a learning platform. Schools such as UNIR have a specific and homogenous infrastructure, which is the backbone of a teacherless course and a fully online university. Dr. Valentín expands on this, “ we needed a perfect technological integration. With about 1000 students enrolled, we needed both the back-end and the user interface to be working smoothly.” CodeGrade can be seamlessly integrated into any Learning Management System, or used as a stand-alone platform. Without high-quality integration, you cannot reap the benefits that the learning platform has to offer!


One thing gained from the tumultuous nature of the previous few years is realizing the potential of flexible learning, like MOOCs.  The inequality of access to computing education, both regarding qualified teachers and sufficient equipment, is still far from resolved (check out this extensive Bookings CS report for more details). But, the growth of MOOCs, when paired with the right tools, can be promising for the future of Computer Science education across the world. 

Evie Christopher

Evie Christopher

Head of Growth
Meet Evie, the powerhouse driving our business development. When she's not showcasing CodeGrade's top-notch quality to universities, she's keeping up with the latest Reality TV gossip.

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