Musings on MOOCs

Dave JoneseLearning0 Comments


MOOCs burst onto the scene in 2012 with lots of hype and press attention. There was talk about the democratisation of education and disruption to the corporate training market, but what is the reality now that we are 3 years in?

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses. The concept was born out of US academia, with the idea that a university could freely make available it’s teaching programmes online through the use of video, assessment and forums, opening up the programmes to an unlimited number of people. The first MOOC was a huge success in this regard, enrolling some 100,000 people.

Essentially, a MOOC is an LMS that provides free access to blended programmes of online content (video, assessments & forums).

There are now successful ‘for-profit’ MOOCs, such as Udacity & Coursera and ‘non-profit’ MOOCs such as edX that provides access to university content, but all the hype seems to have fallen flat.
Universities are now getting onboard, but generally in the capacity of using MOOCs as a promotional taster to drive enrolment to their fee-paying residential programmes.

Some institutions have also adopted the ‘Freemium’ approach, where the course is free – but you pay for certification.

Neither the ‘for profit’ or ‘non-profit’ MOOCS have had the predicted major impact on education or corporate training (yet).

From the outset, completion rates have been a big problem. Out of the 100,000 people who enrolled on the first MOOC only 1,000 saw it through to completion. There is much discussion in regards the reasons for this, the following 2 points most regularly surface:

  1. The learning experience is not engaging.
  2. It’s free, so people are less committed.

Both points are valid.

Effective elearning is well designed to be interactive, to engage, immerse, test and entertain. Lots of skill, thought, expertise and money is put into the development of good online courses. Video can be a fantastic resource for the transfer of knowledge, but not if it is simply a video of lecturer talking – especially if the video is too long. Online assessment, peer assessment and conversation on forums serve a purpose, but fall way short of the experience of engaging and facilitated classroom discussion.

If you pay for something, you are investing in it, so levels of commitment will naturally be higher. However, MOOCs are supposed to be ‘Open’. ‘Open’ = FREE.

Education as the antedote for poverty is a hugely romantic and captivating idea. Sadly, the reality is that 85% of those people who use MOOCs already have a degree and tend to be drawn from the already privileged in society. Knowledge is already free, the internet if full of amazing free resources, so perhaps the curation of this free content could have just as much impact?

The impact on corporate training has yet to be felt. Corporate training programmes don’t tend to be ‘Massive’ or ‘Open’, so I do not foresee any huge impact. Online programmes from a prestigious university would of course be attractive to a large corporate. However, recent years have seen a big shift in bespoke and customised content – so the one-size fits all approach may not be that attractive.

My prediction for the future is that the leading universities and business schools will succeed in creating an online presence. They have the money to invest, so can develop high quality content and sell it on the back of their brands. Offering certification and badges without watering down the value of their traditional programmes. They have no choice but to shift their teaching practices to meet the technological expectations of Generation C.

The question to then ask is – is this not just elearning?

Parallels between MOOCs and the eLearning industry of 15 years ago can be drawn. eLearning had a tough time due to the practice of selling vast libraries of poorly made off-the-shelf content. Completion rates were poor, because of quality, relevance and also due to lack of internal promotion by the companies who bought it. Thankfully lessons have been learnt and elearning is now accepted as an effective method of training. The universities seem to me to be following the same route.

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