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