August 22nd, 2013 E-Learning

The secret is out: MOOCs are changing the landscape for education across the world.  While still very much in the early phases of development, the MOOC model for learning is already shifting our notion of ideal learning environments and methods.  Around the internet it isn’t uncommon to read articles and comments about how MOOCs are the “greatest thing ever” (as people often say when something new comes along).

I figured it might be worth looking at MOOCs objectively for a moment, and perhaps offering up some considerations as to why MOOCs aren’t the greatest thing since sliced bread.  First, let me say I do think that the way MOOCs are shaping the future (and present) of education is certainly groundbreaking. I think there’s a good chance we’ll see related offshoot services and/or businesses pop-up because of new industries that can be traced back to MOOCs.

For those of you who are not very familiar with MOOCs, let’s take a minute to explain what they are and who some of the major players are in the industry.  MOOC is short for “massive-open-online-course”.

MASSIVE: Some courses may consist of up to 100,000 students.

OPEN: Registration is open to anyone in the world who is interested.

ONLINE: The course is 100% online.

COURSE: They’re similar to college courses, except most don’t offer credit.

Some of the major players include Coursera, EdX, and Udacity. For a list of some other MOOCs, head on over to this article.

Now, many organizations are sitting on the sidelines waiting to see how these MOOCs play-out before making the plunge – naturally, there are some concerns.  Through a little digging, I have found that the four major concerns with MOOCs to be as follows:


1. Way too Big

Taking a course with thousands of students has its inherent challenges. Most obvious is that the ability to provide an intimate learning experience for the student is just not possible. Access to the professor is extremely limited, most likely only to videos/documents that are posted for the class. It is also easy for MOOCs to spread too much of the same thinking, which hinders diversity of thought.

2. Lack of Follow-Through

The size of MOOCs is often seen as a strength, but it does create complications. The students that are generally in the demographic to take MOOCs are often the ones that need face-to-face instruction the most.  These same students end up never completing a course. For example, MTx’s Circuits and Electronics had 154,763 students enrolled – only 5% completed the course.

3. Online Learning isn’t for Everyone

Online learning is often not ideal for individuals who struggle with motivation, which likely leads to the low completion rates. Technical difficulties with a participant’s computer or internet connection can also negatively impact the quality of learning. Finally, academic honesty is an issue. In August 2012, students taking Coursera classes discovered and reported plagiarism incidents via peer grading.

4. Quality Concerns

Since the MOOC industry is rather new, there are no quality standards in place that any of them have to meet. This lack of consistent quality can be at both the lesson level and the course level.  At present, it’s a bit of a free-for-all as to how content is presented. Worse yet, many MOOCs rely heavily upon peer grading, which can be plain unreliable and hardly constructive.

In time I think MOOCs will sort themselves out, perhaps evolve a bit so that they can provide real, measurable results.  I think establishing quality control is critical to making this happen.  Much like elearning had to technically meet SCORM protocol for many years, MOOCs should also be subject to a similar set of standards.  It will be exciting to see how MOOCs grow-up.



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About Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Justin's Homepage | Twitter

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Justin, I’m currently enrolled in a MOOC. currently boasting over 9000 enrollments. To foster collaborative work, the organizers assigned the students to groups of 10. Many people are complaining the nobody else in their group is engaging with the course. I’ve seen this is so in my own group; there’s only one other person participating, two others haven’t logged in since the start of the course and the remainder have never logged in. The one who is active (it’s not me) can’t get anybody to work with her.

Somebody enrolled the entire cohort into his sandbox course yesterday which had a consequence of flooding everyone with emails of copies of posts on his forum. Many of the subsequent emails were irritated in their tone; why were they getting flooded with emails from a forum they didn’t sign up to? how could that happen? how this wasn’t fair because they were already under too much pressure, why didn’t the course schedule make more allowances for individuals’ circumstances?

I’m really not convinced this one-size-fits-all is the road to go down. In the earlier days, on a smaller scale, it couldn’t deliver on that promise.

Avatar James Durkan

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