Learn English Online | UCT English Language Centre
Many students write to the UCT English Language Centre asking us if we provide online English lessons. Unfortunately, we do not currently offer this option. We understand that not everyone has the time, financial resources, ability or availability to learn English in Cape Town, so we decided to do a bit of investigating for those of you who can’t join us.

While there are many possibilities to learn English online such as through blogs, skype lessons, etc., we have become particularly interested in the new buzz word – MOOC. According to The New York Times, 2012 became “the year of the MOOC”, as “several well-financed providers, associated with top universities, emerged […].

So, what exactly are MOOCS?

MOOC stands for MASSIVE OPEN ONLINE COURSE. The advent of the internet and widespread accessibility to information has enabled people to access information and platforms for learning that were previously not there. It has fostered learning in an online environment. This means that people who are not able to attend physical courses in a specified location can still be part of the content as long as they have stable internet. And because MOOCS are being supported and offered by many higher institutions of learning around the world, it is providing access to knowledge in the higher education sector to people who have never, and may never have, the opportunity to learn educate, upskill or advancing themselves in a wide range of subjects. An article published by The New York Times called ‘Instruction for Masses Knocks Down Campus Walls’ describes MOOCS as a “tool for democratizing higher education”.
And while the accessibility of information and courses, for free, is not necessarily very new to us anymore, the quality of the content is taking a different form and shape through MOOCS.

Is it good quality?

Often, we wonder about the quality of what have access to online. Anyone can just put together a free course on a topic, or write a blog on something, publish an article. Does this mean the content is good? No. Does it mean the person who provides the content or teaches the content is qualified to do so? No. In fact, the internet sometimes offers the perfect platform for scamsters, and with the very real threat of things such as FAKE NEWS and ONLINE TROLLING, who are we to believe anymore? How do ordinary people like you or me vet things to ensure they are of a high quality and that you will be gaining access to high quality information?

The answer is that many well-known tertiary educational institutions are getting on board and offering MOOCS. In general, there are two types of MOOCS on offer today. These are called cMOOCS and xMOOCS. For more information on the excat differences of these two MOOCS, read here. xMOOCS are more traditional in the structure, similar to what you would find at university. Wikipedia describes these as “branded IT platforms that offer content distribution partnerships to institutions. The instructor is the expert provider of knowledge, and student interactions are usually limited to asking for assistance and advising each other on difficult points.” In other words, just like at university!
There are now several course options available which are backed up by and associated with some very top universities.
Take a look here for some free courses, and often vetted by well-known universities around the world. Note that for some of the courses, you can get a certificate for a small fee.

So, how do MOOCS work?

It’s very simple.
You choose the course you are interested in, register and commit to the dates and times specified. Make sure you have a stable internet connection, and that’s it.


While the UCT English Language Centre completely supports the dissemination and accessibility of high quality content online, we also believe that, specifically when it comes to learning a language, MOOCS do have their limits. For one, languages need to be spoken, and there needs to be human interaction. This is, after all, the whole purpose of language – to communicate. In addition, some studies reveal that completion rates of these courses are very poor, and pass rates are also poor. It has further been suggested that MOOCS are really only benefitting those who don’t need it in the first place, because they are determined and motivated and would succeed without MOOCS. While on the other hand, those who need it get overwhelmed and lost in the complex system of MOOCS and the minute they are feeling lost, unmotivated or unhappy, there is no one to guide them and motivate them to complete the course because students are among thousands, sometimes. There is no teacher interaction, no one marking your work or explaining why something is wrong.

The UCT English Language Centre strongly believes that online English courses, whether paid or free, by a recognised institution or an English teacher, has its benefits, but certainly does have its limitations and we will always be in support, first and foremost, of the classroom environment where a trained teacher can assist students in small groups. Having said that, the future of our connected and global world will determine what our customers want and we will always endeavour to support them in any way we can. Watch this Space!

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