In January 2013, the Babson Survey Research Group, partnering with Pearson, the Sloan Consortium, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, published their 10th annual survey of online education in Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States (We do have a university license for the Sloan-C website where this article can be referenced, but you will be required to create your own userid/password). One of the key areas the report focused on was MOOCs, their current prevalence, expected growth, institutional plans, and reasons to use them. But before we explore those issues, it would be helpful to understand what a MOOC is.
Massive Open Online Course (MOOC – rhymes with Luke) is a term first hinted at in an article Views: Does Class Size Matter? by Daniel W. Barwick in late 2007. The basic premise of his argument was that reduction in achievement of learning outcomes does not necessarily correlate with an increase in larger class sizes. MOOCs are exactly what the terms mean – they are typically extremely large or massive (many times in the thousands of students) online courses that are open to virtually anyone with an internet connection. They are normally non-credit courses, although there has been a recent trend towards offering a limited number of them for college credit. Some of the leaders in offering MOOCs include Stanford, MIT, Duke, Brown, and Princeton. Current data suggest, however, there is still doubt on the part of many academic leaders of the feasibility and sustainability of such a model.
And why should I care?
- First, it is important to understand what is happening in the realm of higher education and the varied delivery methods that are being considered, experimented with, and used. With the advent of many emerging technologies, e.g., mobile, game-based, augmented reality, and gesture-based, it is imperative as educators to understand what paradigms our students may have been exposed to.
- Second, in the battle to attract more and better prepared students, MOOCs can be used to attract potential students. A significant minority of chief academic officers (43.5%) believes this to be the case, if for no other reason than the exposure a prospective student would get to the university.
- Finally, many believe that MOOCs may be a very useful tool in determining if online instruction is appropriate for a student. There is a misconception by many students as to the work involved in taking an online course and many are not given the tools they need to appropriately handle this different delivery method. A MOOC – a non-threatening and typically non-credit course – would give the student a window into the realm of online learning, the advantages, disadvantages, and the required resources of taking a course in this fashion.
In a recent Time magazine article (Oct 18, 2012), a poignant story is told of a young Pakistani girl who had enrolled in a physics MOOC attended by 23,000 students from 125 countries. Due to a political situation, however, her country shut down access to YouTube, a resource that held many short video clips used in the course both for content and assessments. When the shutdown occurred, she was on question #6 of her final exam. Within hours, several of her classmates from around the world helped her find ways around the problem allowing her to complete the test. Although one of the most significant and ironic complaints about MOOCs is the isolationist “feel” that accompanies being in a class with thousands of students, in this case her classmates actually rallied to her side in a show of support.
Recently two of us at the Delphi Center enrolled in a MOOC to experience first-hand the pros and cons. With 40,000 other students, we began our adventure innocently enough following the prescribed directions. Within the first hour or so, it became apparent that there were some significant problems with the course structure, and within a few days, the course was actually shut down. Ironically enough the name of the course was “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application.” For more on this story, see Georgia Tech and Coursera Try to Recover From MOOC Stumble.
For further reading, please consider these articles from Educause, Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle, and The New York Times.
For a nice overview of MOOCs, please see this brief, 3-page pdf from Educause.
To learn how the advent of online teaching and more specifically MOOCs are helping faculty revisit their teaching methods, see the following article from Inside HigherEd.
In a concise article, The Chronicle outlines the essentials of MOOCs but more importantly identifies the key players (companies or organizations) in this movement.
In a November 2012 article from The New York Times, reporter Laura Pappano gives a very detailed look at MOOCs and argues that 2012 was “the year of the MOOC.”
In this balanced article from The Chronicle, a more cautious view of MOOCs is encouraged noting both reasons for its growing popularity and reasons to “remain calm.”
For a very pro-MOOC article by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, see
For a rebuttal of Friedman’s pro-MOOC view, see Dr. Rebecca Shuman’s Chronicle article