Monday, May 19, 2014

Are MOOCs performing to par?

MPR reports that the "MOOC" movement sputters as students underperform and drop out. The article paints a somewhat dismal outlook for MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, commenting that "It has been quite a comedown." That's a very discouraging perspective, considering MOOCs were the rising star of higher ed only a few years ago.

MOOCs offer courses to those who want to learn new subjects in a different, non-traditional way for free. The idea of "distance learning" is not new; versions of correspondence courses have been around since Sir Isaac Pitman taught shorthand by mail in 1840. E-learning has been around for years, and MOOCs extend e-learning to vast audiences. For example, the Chronicle of Higher Education's "Brainstorm" blog reported that in Fall 2011, Stanford University launched three MOOCs, "letting over 100,000 students around the world take their courses, online, for free."

Yet according to the MPR article, "University studies have shown dismal results: MOOCs suffered from high dropout rates - often above 90 percent. A majority of those who took the classes already had bachelor's or master's degrees. And participants didn't perform as well as students who'd taken the same course in a traditional classroom on campus."

Even Udacity founder and former Stanford University professor Sebastian Thrun seems daunted, reflecting "We [Udacity] were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don't educate people as others wished, or as I wished."

So what happened? Are MOOCs on the way out? I don't think so. What we are seeing is a natural progression along the "hype cycle" where emerging ideas initially seem awesome, then fizzle a bit as reality sets in. Concepts that are interesting enough make it out of that depression and get adopted.

Gartner Hype Cycle (Kemp)

MOOCs quickly progressed from the "trigger" stage to the "peak of inflated expectation." That was the point at which everyone talked about MOOCs as the future of education. But at the same time, we need to be careful. Online courses such as MOOCs are not a panacea for education. Having recognized the strategic significance of MOOCs as a disruptive technology, higher education must now find ways to cultivate MOOCs to its benefit. The next step is to determine an initial market. This will require institutions to experiment rapidly, iteratively, and inexpensively to explore new education models. Locating this experiment in a separate unit or college will provide necessary flexibility to take a solid step forward in the quest to discover what customers really want.

The MPR article seems to agree in its conclusion. Citing University of Minnesota computer science professor Joseph Konstan, there's more potential for MOOCS, but "we're not quite there as to understanding how to exercise that yet." That would move MOOCs along the "slope of enlightenment" towards the "plateau of productivity," at which point we will finally see more students and faculty adopting and engaging with MOOCs in higher education.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.