MOOCs, Are They Really The Future Of Education?

Our college is rapidly moving into the digital age. We are redesigning our courses for an online modality, while using this activity to make our in-class offerings stronger. It’s a good process; one that I think will make our school more competitive. However, with MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, what has emerged is a technological disruption that is impacting how education is offered. Schumpeter called this creative destruction. However, will MOOCs be the game changer they have been made out to be? That is the $64,000 question! However, I don’t think they will be as disruptive as on-line offerings have been.

In today’s paper there was a Freshman report card on MOOCs that I think warrants perusal. Just because something attracts millions of people does not necessarily mean it is good or it will last. However, I think MOOCs are here to stay, but how they are administered will change. “The largest provider, Coursera, has drawn five million students, and nonprofit provider edX more than 1.3 million.” This means there are a lot of people who sign up for these free offerings, many coming from the United States and others coming from Africa and India, but many of these folks don’t finish the course. According to statistics associated with MOOCs 90% of people who sign up don’t finish. There are a plethora of reasons for this, but they usually include students feeling isolated and disengaged.

Many traditional education institutions see the value of MOOCs. “Big-name schools have also signed on to the idea. Top institutions – from Harvard University to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Stanford University – and some companies have joined with MOOC providers to put courses online, free to anyone who wants to access them.” This alone will change education.

I think there are problems inherent with online education, but these problems are not insurmountable barriers to having a successful online experience. “In large part, the experience is very good, but we see that there are problems, and there are a number of things that can be done that have promise.” Some of these things need to be a part of the design process, and some are associated with the course administration. The report card mentioned in today’s article will help in understanding this.

First, we are what Elliot Aronson calls “Social Animals.” In other words, we need people. If we design courses that are not interactive then our students will feel isolated, which will lead to non-engagement, and ultimately losing interest (not finishing). “The most important thing that helps students succeed in an online course is interpersonal interaction and support.” There are many tricks of the trade that can be used to help this, but this needs to be considered while designing the course.

Second, make sure there is a certain amount of interaction between students. Designing an online offering should include a re-creation of what happens in the classroom. Many of my classes have prodigious conversations that lend to the value of the class. Designing an online offering to include this type of activity will help make the course more successful.

Third, long recorded lectures are boring. “Successful MOOCs have figured out that students can’t simply sit and listen to a long lecture. They break up lessons with quizzes and problem sets that must be completed before students can progress.”

Fourth, online learning does not work for all students. “The Columbia study of Washington community-college students found that all students performed less well in online courses than in face-to-face ones, but the gap was even wider among those with lower GPA’s.” Another group of individuals that don’t do well with online learning are at-risk students. Their pass rates were between 24% and 51% – “much lower than the typical pass rates between 46$ and 76% for a normal student population.” These students need more one-to-one mentoring to rise to their potential.

Fifth, MOOCs can teach Humanities too. Coursera’s most popular courses are psychology and philosophy. This is suggested by completion rates and student feedback. However, one company, Udacity, doesn’t offer any Humanities courses, focusing on technical courses.

MOOCs, and other online offerings will never replace face-to-face classroom offerings. However, they will change how face-to-face courses are offered. I really think hybrid courses are the way of the future. Each of us has various ways that we learn. Some of us love to hear a lecture. Some of us learn best by doing. Some by watching. However, if we design activities into our courses that connect with all of these learning styles learning and retention rises exponentially.

Those of us who are in education need to pay attention to the idea of MOOCs and adjust accordingly. MOOCs are a game changer, but I am not too sure what the new paradigm will look like. I only know that we have to adjust to this new environment. If we don’t the discontinuity will be too great for us to survive.

And that is my thought for the day!



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