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MOOCs Update

Bob Little 

March 20, 2015

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) continue to generate huge interest and some controversy, particularly in the higher education sector but increasingly, too, in the corporate world. Now there are for-profit and non-profit MOOCs. Examples include Udacity or Coursera (for-profits) and university MOOCs such as edX (non-profits).

Furthermore, since MOOCs come from academia, they’re often categorized by their instructional approach. A video-based MOOC with online grading is known as a broadcast MOOC. A MOOC with group grading and which focuses on a collaborative experience where learners share with each other, via social learning for example, is referred to as a connectivist MOOC.

Last November, this blog carried an assessment of MOOCs. Recently, a public discussion on MOOCs took place between online learning specialists including:

  • John Leh, CEO and lead analyst at Talented Learning – a learning management system (LMS) selection consultant who helps organizations plan and implement technology strategies that support extended enterprise learning.
  • Dr Mike Orey, an associate professor at the University of Georgia – a teacher, researcher, designer, developer, and visionary.
  • Erica LeBlanc, the operations development manager for the IP and Science division of Thomson Reuters, where she manages a team of instructional designers focusing on the creation and delivery of customized sales training courses.
  • Josh Squires, chief operating officer, EMEA, of Docebo, a cloud SaaS-based e-learning solutions platform producer.

Josh believes that, while MOOCs seem to abound in the academic world, they’re struggling to find a market niche in the corporate world – since it’s difficult for any but the largest corporations to generate a following around a subject that it’s willing to make freely available to everyone.

According to Mike, many MOOCs involve watching some sort of a video. Students take a multiple choice test and discuss things with other students in a largely un-proctored discussion forum. In his view, it’s not really a conversation and it’s really not relationship building. He pointed out that the first MOOC attracted some 100,000 students but only 1000 or so completed the course. Today, MOOCs can have between 100 and 300 students. As the “M” becomes smaller, you’re left with the “O” (online) and the “C” (courses), he said. “Online courses” means e-learning – and when it comes to creating highly interactive e-learning experiences on a smaller scale, the key to effectiveness is less about technology and more about how you form relationships between teachers and students – and among students.

John commented: “Always being free is tough to sustain for a MOOC – and something has to give in the process. That could be the quality of the individual courses. From a corporate, academic and an e-learning standpoint, just watching a video for an hour of somebody speaking in front of a classroom is extremely dull. Yet, to do it better requires time, money and effort – and, to get it up to the standards that we’re used to, costs money to buy the software to create and then host it.

“If, potentially, you have hundreds of thousands of learners, you’ve got to have an environment that can support that type of traffic. That costs money. So, whether they’re for profit or not-for-profit, MOOCs aren’t driven to generate revenue because, otherwise, they’re a complete cost center – and that’s unsustainable in the long term.”

Mike pointed out that a university is a business in the sense that it’s selling its product. He continued: “MOOCs are giving people a free trial of the experience of taking a university class and, at the end, you can get the continuing education credits for a small fee. Some smaller universities are now offering MOOC students the opportunity to get college credits but, mostly, they’re using these MOOCs to attract students to come to the university full time and pay full tuition fees.”

“We already have the ability to show any type of content, so the only thing that MOOCs really provide is the ability to have free content that you can then deploy to your internal employees or your extended enterprise [your customers and/or suppliers],” John said. “And, while that has value, free content isn’t necessarily engaging content. So MOOCs aren’t taking off from a corporate perspective.”

Erica differed. She said: “Corporate partnering with MOOCs is something that’ll be evolving in the next few years. A reputable MOOC, coming from the universities, or platforms like edX, could be integrated with corporate development plans. So an LMS wouldn’t necessarily render MOOCs irrelevant. There’s a lot of information that needs to be transferred to employees. If the information already exists and comes from a reputable university, I’d take advantage of that.”

John believes it’s possible for MOOCs to reshape teaching or the economic structure of teaching if MOOC content can achieve consistent high quality and give people a viable alternate business model. Conversely, because there’s still a demand from individuals to have an accredited academic degree, Erica doesn’t see MOOCs disrupting the fundamental economic structure of teaching which universities can supply. She commented: “With teaching there’s a classroom experience, a network experience, a personalization, and the practical application. You’re also together with like-minded peers. All those are things which MOOCs don’t provide.

“When you’re part of a MOOC, anyone can join,” she said, adding that, therefore, there’s no guarantee – in terms of the social learning interaction that’s a major part of a MOOC – that all the participants have shared intellectual backgrounds or goals.

To access a fuller account of this conversation, which also featured Aaron Silvers, a designer, technologist and strategist responsible for helping to bring massively adopted learning technologies into organizations around the world, notably SCORM and xAPI (otherwise known as Tin Can), visit: https://www.docebo.com/landing/learning-management-system/moocs-whitepaper.php?PRBOB

MOOCs provide greater access to learning and a wider range of knowledge from different cultures and countries but, as these learning technology experts agreed, technology isn’t beneficial merely because it’s there. Nonetheless, MOOCs have already shown their potential to disrupt the academic and corporate learning worlds — in terms of price, technology and even pedagogy – even if research shows that MOOC participants tend to come from the already well-educated and privileged in society.

What’s your experience of using or providing MOOCs? What do you think their future holds? Join in the discussion below!

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3 comments on “MOOCs Update”:

  1. dermot Macanvard wrote:

    I took a few MOOCs or rather edx courses. Two were stalking horses for atheism and the third one was a stalking horse for Buddhism. It was rather disappointing that they spent so much time putting down believers. I felt this is what you get when it is free.I enjoyed pointing out the obvious but some students were enthralled by the confident profs with their hidden agenda.

    • Liz Cook wrote:

      Hi Dermot. Your experience is a lesson in itself: the quality and purpose of the course content and the course leader are at least as important as the technology involved in delivery. If possible, take time to find out the views of other learners and to research the reputation and qualifications of the provider. If there’s no information available, then you know not to linger! I hope you have a more satisfying experience in the future. Liz and the Mind Tools team.

  2. Omodioagbe Samuel wrote:

    I have been a MOOC learner for over 6 year earning over 250 certificates during the period. I believe MOOC has tremendous advantages that seems to be undermined. The opportunity to learn at pace give learners enough time to internalize the contents better. Affordability is another advantage that need to be considered. And the possibility of depth and breadth of the focused area is phenomenon. For example, a typical MBA only have about 20 courses, and so you may not have the opportunity to take further courses to deepen your knowledge beyond the approved ones. But with MOOC, you have the freedom to take as many courses in a particular area as deeply as possible. Therefore, the opportunity for lifelong learning is what MOOC has made possible than never before

    Finally I believe MOOC has come to stay and can only get better

    Omodioagbe Samuel (a proud MOOC learner from Nigeria)