The Language of MOOCs

If you were of internet age in 2012, you probably remember the gushing coverage that welcomed platforms like edX or Coursera. Media interest has fizzled considerably since The New York Times declared 2012 “The Year of the MOOC.”

While the hype has faded, colleges and universities have actually begun using MOOCs to alter how they operate in subtler and more lasting ways. Most colleges and universities are now, in one way or another, in the business of online education. Just last fall, the University of Pennsylvania became the first Ivy League institution to offer a fully online bachelor’s program, while Columbia University launched a MOOC to prepare veterans’ to transition to university life. Even disciplines that have traditionally relied heavily on lectures have warmed up to the idea of the flipped classroom, a feature of online education.

Much has been made of the global nature of MOOCs, and the fact that these courses are enabling students from many countries to learn together. Coursera has 181 partners in 27 countries; edX has 130 partners worldwide. In spite of their international reach, English is the language of instruction for over 80 percent of their courses. In contrast, English makes up about 50 percent of internet content, and English speakers 30 percent of the total users. Can edX and Coursera be global platforms and be functionally monolingual?

Read more in this week's Inside Higher Ed from Professor Roberto Rey Agudo. Agudo is language program director in the department of Spanish and Portuguese and a 2018 Public Voices Fellow with The Op-Ed Project.