MOOCs et al

MOOC File retrieved on 05-10-2017 technologyenhancedlearning.net/2013/02/mooc.png

The reality is, education is expensive.  Not only is it expensive, but the cost analysis of the education, the opportunity cost expensed, and the marginal utility received from its consumption can be seen as dwindling.

Christensen et al., (2011) suggest:

Our country’s dominant higher education policies have focused on expanding access for more than half a century—allowing more students to afford higher education. Yet changing circumstances mandate that we shift the focus of higher education policy away from how to enable more students to afford higher education to how we can make a quality postsecondary education affordable (para. 3).

And although technological forums are being created to curtail this bleak trend, they are still illustrating a less than advantageous defense against the traditional university. There has to be a way.  The most recent adventures in technology have led to an initiative known as Massive Open Online Course or MOOC.  MOOCs have been established for a great many reasons, but their objective is to create a platform that allows for easy access, null cost or cost considerate programs, that provide for flexibility in time frames while shortening courseloads towards the achievement of certificates within the programs.


How do MOOCs fit into the general higher education landscape? Or are they more suited to the “fringe?”

When massive open online courses first grabbed the spotlight in 2011, many saw in them the promise of a revolutionary force that would disrupt traditional higher education by expanding access and reducing costs” (Selingo, 2014).  MOOCs are an opportunity to educate–with relatively no or little expense–socio-economically deprived populations that need a way to reach the coursework while working around the diverse and taxing schedules.

However, what has been witnessed by a majority of the MOOCs community has been contrary to their cause and the fundamental rationale behind this was the manner in which the MOOCs were structured.  Although it was true that creating a free schedule to complete assignments offered flexibility, the reality was that the flexibility often created opportunities for students to do anything other than their studies.

When it offered an open forum for all to access, those that utilized the programs in a successful manner were students that came from more affluent backgrounds-well-versed in technology or already held a degree and were, according to Selingo (2014),   “far better equipped to navigate such a course, especially one covering difficult material” (para. 4).

MOOCs are a great way to educate given you are well-versed, have experience in the expectations of higher education, and require little assistance and/or motivation to navigate your own learning.  Although MOOCs provide additional learning experiences as relatively low to no costs is great, but the programs should be geared towards specialization coursework and even mini certificate type programs that can be short enough in duration to keep the prize at hand and deadline driven in order to promote successful completion.

What can traditional higher education institutions learn from MOOCs to use them effectively as a learning tool?

The idea behind MOOCs is incredibly powerful.  Educating the masses in a cost efficient, catered to approach.  Students can afford to take the courses with relatively no costs associated aside from the opportunity costs for time spent and they are able to cater their learning format, lessons, educational pursuits in a manner that fits their needs.  “The MOOC provides learning in chunks, at a student’s own pace” (Selingo, 2014, para. 15).

The traditional higher education facility has the opportunity to look at MOOCs, their rise in popularity, and ultimately their platform to come to realizations in order to restructure their purpose and more importantly their message to the learner.  Do we value your attendance?  Can we provide you with the level of education that with providing you with a competitive advantage when moving into the job sector?  Can we keep tuition, fees and other expenses down to make the pursuit of a degree affordable and within reason?  Can we streamline the process to offer you a catered learning experience that is specific to your career pursuits?  How can we better help the learner through the process?  Today, the education world (specifically higher education) must begin to realize that the role of the educator is changing.

Traditional higher education must:

  1. Must customize the learning process to meet the needs of the individual student
  2. Create a format that allows for an experiential process
  3. Target a larger audience
  4. Create more affordable coursework
  5. Create a format that is specific to the time constraints of the learner
  6. Remove excess coursework that drives tuition expense and timeframe to complete degree or certificate programs

Traditional universities to have some advantages.  Despite current efforts to create online simulated learning programs, the truth is, new learners still learn best within the confines of a traditional classroom.  I see a large movement towards creating hybrid programs–where the students are scaffolded through the process of online learning–while still being able to take classes on campus.  Selingo (2014) explains that “when MOOCs replace traditional courses, an extremely high number of students fail….much lower rates than for the on-campus equivalents (para. 6).

How can institutions measure the quality of MOOC design, delivery, and outcomes such that they can be included in a student’s transcript and graduation requirements? 

Measuring an MOOC and its effectiveness and how coursework coincides to degree or certificate outcomes presents quite a challenge.  Morrison (2015) writes, “MOOCs don’t fit into the traditional education mold and given it’s usually unclear what the intended outcomes are for MOOCs, assessment is challenging (Gaebel, 2013)” (para. 1).

Morrison identifies an effective instruction model known as the Merril + which infuses five characteristics of effective instruction infused with five additional principles established by Margaryan and Collins.  Morrison (2015) suggests that learning occurs when these components are present:

  1. Problem Centered Learning: …when learners are engaged in solving real-world problems
  2. Activation: …when learners activate existing knowledge, experience or a skill set as a foundation for creating new knowledge and/or skills.
  3. Demonstration: …when learners observe a demonstration [that includes learning of new knowledge via a primary resource] of the skill [knowledge] to be learned.
  4. Application: …when learners apply their new knowledge or skill through discussion, written work, or creation of an artifact to solve a problem.
  5. Integration: …when new knowledge is integrated and into the learner’s context
  6. Collective knowledge: …when learners contribute to the collective knowledge of a subject or topic
  7. Collaboration: …when learners collaborate with others to expand knowledge of individuals and a community of practice
  8. Differentiation: …when learners are provided with different avenues of learning, according to their need, e.g. scaffolding
  9. Authentic resources: …when quality learning resources are curated from and applicable to real world problems
  10. Feedback: …when learners are given expert feedback on their performance (para. 6)

We can review and adjust MOOC curriculum to emphasize these components, but how and to what degree can we monitor their presence?  The context of learning, Hood and Littlejohn (2016), summate “is situated within and across the institutional contexts of the specific course creator and the platform provider” (para. 5).  This makes the task of assessing the evaluative components, objectives, and course content difficult, but not necessarily unachievable.  It is a daunting task for any university, but I believe it would be necessary for each course to be taken by an evaluator within the university to identify key components, as listed by Merrill, but also content alignment with course completion objectives in order to determine if specific MOOC classes could be considered acceptable for degree or certification requirements.

The reality is, a MOOC degree would be a completely unique and specific degree which could be significant because it would allow the employer to match a very specific need within the company.  With that, the downfall would be that the degree would be so specialized or specific that degree descriptions or even job descriptions (later on) would be so specific and restrictive that it would make the process of evaluating (when graduating or hiring) incredibly difficult.

Without definitive objectives, a strict process and fluid process for measurement, a blueprint to coursework correlation for degree advancement and achievement, the MOOC process may never be a means of degree achievement nor is it about information accumulation .  Norvig (2016) suggests “more important is motivation and determination” (4:46).


Christensen, C. M., Horn, M. B., Caldera, L., & Soares, L. (2011). Disrupting college: How disruptive innovation can deliver quality and affordability to postsecondary education. Washington, DC and Mountain View, CA: Center for American Progress and Innosight Institute.

Hood, N., & Littlejohn, A. (2016). MOOC quality: The need for new measures. Journal of learning for development – Jl4d, 3(3). Retrieved from http://www.jl4d.org/index.php/ejl4d/article/view/165/155

Morrison, D. (2015, December 12). MOOC quality comes down to this: Effective course design. Retrieved from https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2015/12/12/mooc-quality-comes-down-to-this-effective-course-design/

Norvig, P. (2012, June). Peter Norvig: The 100,000-student classroom | TED Talk Subtitles and Transcript | TED.com [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/peter_norvig_the_100_000_student_classroom/transcript?language=en

Selingo, J. J. (2014, October 29). Demystifying the MOOC. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/education/edlife/demystifying-the-mooc.html


11 thoughts on “MOOCs et al

  1. Laura Tuttle says:

    Hi Zach!

    I appreciate your knowledge and understanding of MOOCs. You are right… they are a tool for the student who at least has some successful experience with online education. I think Selingo (2014) agrees when he writes about the need to also have experienced, yet down to earth teachers who lead the MOOCs since his statistics found only 1 in 10 actually finish an MOOC. Perhaps one solution would be the institution of higher education who sponsors the MOOC should have clearly defined rules so the student will meet the expectations of the course. Also, perhaps the idea that many MOOCs are offered at no charge implies to some students that they are not serious courses, so who cares if they finish or not. Without the committment of money, many students may feel it is no skin off their nose if they do not finish.

    On the other hand, my experience with Udacity (Free online classes & nanodegrees, 2017) has been quite positive as the course work is geared to take anyone interested and teach them what they need to know in order to be considered for a position with Google, Mercedez-Benz, and other high-technology coorporations.


    Free online classes & nanodegrees. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.udacity.com/?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Bing_Search_Beta_Brand&utm_term=%2Budacity&utm_content=Udacity

    Selingo, J. J. (2014, October 29). Demystifying the MOOC. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/education/edlife/demystifying-the-mooc.html

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Zach!
    I enjoyed reading your post!
    I know that free MOOCs were geared at providing educational opportunities to all individuals, increasing resources for low socioeconomic individuals. However, the fact that they are online will automatically alienate those without the financial or geographical resources to secure access to a computer and Internet. MOOCs are still a viable solution as a resource for non-traditional or disadvantaged learners and could be an enhancement to established online programs in higher education.
    In person instruction is not always feasible and may be limited in the number of individuals that it reaches. I am reminded of the store that you shared in a discussion response where you attempted to offer free English courses to employees at your work but your supervisor would not allow it. In an ideal world, industry would recognize the importance of providing and supporting educational opportunities for all levels of workers. Some companies do utilize MOOCs and digital badges as a form of professional development, but this is generally for professional level workers and not unskilled entry-level employees. There is value in educating all employees, both from an industrial and moral standpoint.
    You pointed out that degree-holders would be much better equipped to successfully navigate an online course. This disparity perpetuates the digital divide. I like your idea of offering MOOCs as a hybrid somehow. For example, could a local library facilitate basic MOOC courses? This way every person would have access to the computer and Internet and have help navigating enrollment and course completion. This may be a missing component to more successfully using and offering MOOCs.

    On a side not, your wife is lovely and your boys are adorable!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Laura Martin says:


    I appreciated your honest look at MOOCs–what they have to offer to higher education institutions, and where they can learn from these institutions. You did a great job of points out that MOOCs “are a great way to educate given you are well-versed, have experience in the expectations of higher education, and require little assistance and/or motivation to navigate your own learning.” These ideas from Selingo (2014) prove that these courses still have a long way to go before they reach their desired population. If the purpose of MOOCs are to make learning accessible and affordable to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds,something needs to change. There needs to be higher support for higher motivation in order for this population to succeed. Until then, this form of education is great for supplemental learning and professional development.

    Nice job on your post and your blog…love the design!
    Laura Martin

    Selingo, J. J. (2014, October 29). Demystifying the MOOC. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/education/edlife/demystifying-the-mooc.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I could not agree with you more. Unfortunately, given the context, we have a strong obligation to make anything–that is a requirement of labeling accomplishment (degree for work, certification towards career advancement, etc)–accountable to society as a whole. We must be weary in what we consider standard practice, especially if that standard practice (much like the history of the SAT and other assessment methods) is biased in nature in regards to race, gender, etc. We must equalize the playing field in order to make it a fair game. It will be great, one day!!! Thank you for your post!


  4. Hi Zach,
    I enjoyed reading your blog on MOOCs et al. I agreed with a lot of the information that you shared. I thought that the solutions offered were appropriate but at the same time however, the reality shared seemed to counter possible progress. While the MOOC program was designed to assist those who maybe socio-economically deprived, the people who are taking advantage of the programs do not fit the description (Selingo, 2014).

    If higher education really wants to impact the communities that were socio-economically misrepresented, then they should stop at nothing to reach their goal. A divided stance ends in sadness because it never was its true self (Palmer, 2004). Either higher education is targeting socio-economically deprived communities or they are not. When dealing with socio-economically deprived communities, I find it interesting that in some places the police know to go and look for drugs there, which part of the reason is, because of a lack of political push back from the communities due to a lack of a political voice (Alexander, 2012). Hopefully the schools can figure out a way to vigorously recruit, and retain the students.

    In this day and age the information about MOOCs should be made available to everyone who has any type of social media, internet access, or online computer.
    In addition students in high school should be required to take a mandatory class to better understand the MOOC system so that they are fully knowledgeable about what their options are and can make a decision as to how they would like to go forward in their life. I would even take it a step further and recognize that their is a serious need to intentionally recruit young African American males to participate in this learning experience because they seem to be at a disadvantage. The idea that black and brown men belong in jail and that it is their fault and so society is absolved of being responsible to do anything seems unfair (Alexander, 2012). By offering MOOCs to the students, it may be the opportunity needed to end the vicious prison to pipeline syndrome also known as the schoolhouse to jailhouse track (Kunjufu, 2005).

    Once more, great job!


    Alexander, M., (2012) The new jim crow. New York, NY. The New Press.
    Palmer, P., (2004) A hidden wholeness, the journey toward and undivided life. San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.
    Kunjufu, J., (2005) Keeping black boys out of special education. Chicago, Ill. African American Images.
    Selingo, J., (2014) Demystifying the MOOC. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/education/edlife/demystifying-the-mooc.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sonji,
      Thank you so much and absolutely great points!

      I would not go so far as to say anyone believes anyone should be in jail, but I would definitely agree on the point that culture and society play a much larger responsibility for this occurrence and by remaining stagnant in the correction of this it could come across in a manner that suggests that no one cares. I can see how this could be interpreted.

      I love your ideas and I think the integration of an introduction course to MOOCs would be highly beneficial and CRUCIAL if this is the direction that certification or degree achievement will aim…I happen to agree with you that it is a matter of fully embracing the direction…if we are going to target socially-disadvantaged populations than lets target those populations. But first, lets go further to target those populations with a plan to target the roots of why these populations do not succeed in MOOCs. This is going to be a very poor example, but hopefully you will note where I am going with this…It is like telling a man with no shoes, no food in his stomach, and no training to go run a marathon race and then wonder why he did not place in the top ten? I love your perspective on this Sonji, because your heart and your thought are right where mine are.

      Thank you so much for your post, it pulled me towards stronger perspective and better understanding!

      Thank you,


      • I can dig Zach, I apologize for the delayed response. Extremely hectic on my end. I like your analogy because it gives a great depiction of what we are asking folks to do.
        Great exchange,

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Alyssa Lehl says:

    Hi Zach! I really enjoyed your blog today. In an effort to move forward or transition to a different type of compatible program some MOOCs are now offering certificates which in turn allow the student to transfer some credit and enter a traditional program. EdX has developed several certificate-based programs (EdX, 2017).

    In addition, EdX is devising new use of technology to implement small groups, collaborative projects and other implementations using the web to facilitate more effective learning.

    While MOOCs are extremely popular in the corporate training circles, the programs now have the opportunity to possibly provide an entry program which could feasibly allow MOOC students to seamlessly transition into a university or college program.

    Given these facts, I believe MOOC providers should embrace the concept of review and auditing their courses to ensure thorough preparation for delivery and also a thorough audit for fact checking so the quality of the classes is consistent.


    EdX, (2017). Retrieved from https://open.edx.org/features-roadmap/teaching-and-learning-tools/all

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alyssa, excellent post and great points! This is exactly where I needed to land with my reasoning and after I read your post, I had to go to EdX to do a little exploring on my own.

      I think that an “accreditation process” is evolution-ally the next steps for the MOOC programs, providing there are manners in which to keep these types of associated expenses down. Perhaps a cross-MOOC process where certificates and accomplishment can be connected, so courses began in one could conclude in another? All of this is thought for further down the road, but as I say that, I realize this is knocking on our door now.

      This is excellent Alyssa and really discusses the main faults that I initially felt.

      In regards to increasing completion rate success and access for socio-economically deprived populations, how do you see the way in which we bridge the disparity, so that these populations can be successful as well?

      Would love to hear your thoughts, thanks again!


      • Alyssa Lehl says:

        Hi Zach! I am in agreement with you that one of the types of overarching governance this type of program change needs would be an accreditation process. In addition, your question about certificates poses an interesting thought for me. There are a great many technical classes on EdX, and given that one would master a skill in one of their MOOCs my thoughts would be to develop an articulation process so there could be some type of cross certification program to align with the technical certification programs as well; perhaps they would be able to offer the candidate a free test to determine if they can pass and if they do then the certification would be theirs free of charge. I believe that given MOOCs are also tools for educators as well as students the program administrators must continue to evolve and develop the program with this fact in mind.
        In response to your query about disparity, the facts are that EdX charges a sum of money (sometimes substantial if one were economically disadvantaged) so the question should arise in how this problem can be addressed. One way would be to offer scholarships or reduced tuition. In that type of program some autonomy would be given to the administrators of the program, and possibly those who needed certification would be able to petition for a tuition reduction or ‘tuition forgiveness’.

        Liked by 1 person

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