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.