Who's afraid of the big bad MOOC?

After apparently stalling for a short time, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) seem to be gaining ground again. First there were the cMOOCs, free and open online courses that focused more on learning than they did on accreditation. Learning was fun and informal, and learning was often self or peer assessed. With the potential for thousands of students to enrol together on MOOCs, learning through connection to this large network of learners became the foundation and the cornerstone. Next came the institutional versions, the xMOOCs, which borrowed the 'free at the point of delivery' open and online model but emphasised formal assessment and accreditation (which is clearly where the money is).  Quasi versions of open online learning already existed, such as the incredibly popular video based Khan Academy content.

Inevitably, some surveyed the huge scalability and openness of massive open courses and saw they were ripe for exploitation. Up popped a number of edu-businesses such as Coursera, Udacity and EdX, all of which promised dynamic and scalable platforms from which any university could launch its MOOC, and gain huge numbers of students overnight. xMOOCs have been around for only a short while in their current form, but have already attracted criticism and received some bad press.  Coursera for example came under fire for its problematic approach to peer assessment, whilst others were criticised for dumbing down learning through for example their use of automated assessment and delivery of homogenised content. Regardless of these detractions, several universities have bought into the vision and have launched their own versions. Yet many universities remain sceptical about the sustainability and relevancy of MOOCs. Others are standing on the sidelines watching to see what will happen next.

Writing in the Thursday March 7 edition of the International Herald Tribune, Thomas Friedman issues a stark warning to all traditional universities about MOOCs, focused on improving pedagogy. Universities must change, he says, from a 'time served' model to a 'stuff learned' model. He reasons that 'increasingly the world does not care what you know. Everything is on Google. The world only cares, and will only pay for,  what you can do with what you know'. Friedman points out, quite rightly, that the world of work is now competency based, and respects less and less the academic qualifications job candidates place on their CVs. He pours further fuel on the fire by pointing out that the world of MOOCs is 'creating a competition that will force every professor to improve his or her pedagogy or face an online competitor.' Whilst this would be a good thing for universities (why would anyone not want to improve their professional practice?) many are less convinced that MOOCs will provoke such a dichotomy of educational choice. Clearly Friedman has a point, but many remain sceptical, asking questions such as: How many courses can actually be fully and convincingly delivered in MOOC format, with no denigration of quality of learning experience? How in the long term can quality be assured in the delivery of MOOCs? What about authenticity (are the learners who they say they are?) and what about assessment of such a large number of students - how can this be achieved reliably (remember the Coursera fiasco). And how many universities are actually threatened by MOOCs anyway?  

Photo by Steve Wheeler

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Colin MacKinnon said…
thanks for you unbiased view of MOOC. Please check us out at mycolemaneducation.org. We are extending the 21st century education conversation and want your input.
eRoman said…
Not that it matters much for this context,but I believe Thomas Friedman first published the quoted comment on the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/opinion/friedman-the-professors-big-stage.html
Steve Wheeler said…
You're right Roman, he did publish originally in the NYT. But the place I read it was in a syndicated piece appearing in the International Herald Tribune.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Colin. I'm just trying to report it like it is, with both sides of the discussion represented. I think there will be plenty more fallout from both sides though ;)
Jorge Escobar said…
Currently virtual education is very important in learning because to technological advances, education should somehow be adapting their methodologies to this type of learning.

Can not see this virtual education as a threat but as something positive to improve education.

Support of different tools like Moodle, Mahara and Totara integrations allow you to have a better job in platforms e-Learning
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Jorge. Presumably you see Moodle, Mahara etc as useful because they are open source and available without entanglement with large corporations?

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