By Todd Bloom, October guest blogger
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a popular topic in higher education. But what will be their impact on student learning and outcomes? Are they a short-lived trend or a means to transform education opportunities for all types of learners?
The idea of scalable free online courses has gained traction quickly: the for-profit company Coursera, for example, recently added 16 higher education partners, more than doubling the number of institutions they work with and expanding the number of courses they offer to nearly 200. And edX, a nonprofit founded by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology now hosts courses from Berkeley and the University of Texas System as well.
What type of learning experiences do MOOCs offer? Like online learning in K-12, the MOOCs with the most successful student outcomes impart discrete knowledge and focus on technical content — STEM courses, for example.
While MOOCs give large numbers of people access to the course content of renowned institutions, the scale of the classes limits the support available for students. Contrary to in-person and traditional online courses, students generally don’t receive help from the instructor when they raise their hands or exhibit other signs of needing assistance.
MOOCs normally do enable peer interaction, but beyond crowdsourcing, successful students must be independent and thrive in a relatively inflexible instructional environment. EdX did a limited study of students who performed well in a MOOC and found most had taken a similar course before and had completed any suggested academic preparation.
In September, the Gates Foundation announced that they will award 10 grants for the creation of MOOCs to provide remedial coursework. In particular, they want applicants to focus on introductory classes with a primary audience of low-income and first generation students. Educators will be watching to see if the grantees can maintain the scale of MOOCs while delivering the individual support successful remediation requires.
Students have a variety of reasons for taking MOOCs, which tend to fall in three categories:
- Personal satisfaction and growth
- Mastery of content that can be shown to an employer
- Academic credit (see LearningCounts.org as an example)
The University of Texas System recently took a step toward using MOOCs as a means to accelerate degree completion while containing costs. System leaders believe that having more options for students taking bridge courses (introductory classes required for multiple degree programs) will alleviate the problem of those courses being over-enrolled.
As institutions find creative ways to use MOOCs to broaden educational opportunities for all students, colleges and universities need to go a step beyond putting in place a credentialing process. Students in MOOCs need the same support as traditional students in developing an academic roadmap.
MOOCs are a huge opportunity for institutions to give students a taste of their best offerings and for students to get a taste of college success. What do you think? Can MOOCs promote student achievement and degree completion?