MOOCs: A Revolution … or Just Plain Hype?

A MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), if you’re familiar with the Eogogics WebLive™ platform, is WebLive™ on Steroids! It’s a Web-based course that’s open to an unlimited number of participants. While MOOC’s have been around for about a decade, they burst into public view in 2012 (which a Nov. 2012 New York Times article called “the year of the MOOC”), with the emergence of for-profit (e.g., Udacity and Coursera) and non-profit providers (e.g., edX and Khan Academy). The field is notable for the involvement of prominent player such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, CalTech, National Science Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, National Geographic Society, Museum of Modern Art, American Museum of Natural History, the World Bank, Google, and venture capitalists.

MOOCs come in two basic flavors. xMOOCs are more like the classroom we’re used to, with a relatively well-defined curriculum, an instructor in the lead role, somewhat limited learner interactions with the instructor and with each other, and exams/quizzes. On the other hand, cMOOCs emphasize connectivity, social learning, interactive forums, group collaboration, peer group assessment, automated feedback, machine grading of assignments, and open-ended outcomes. Courses can be free, paid, or “freemium” (free, with a premium version or options available), cover a range of skill/difficulty levels, come with or without certificates, provided on per-course or subscription basis, and are offered in other major languages besides English.

MOOCs are rather time-consuming and expensive to develop. In addition to teachers accustomed to Web-based instruction, they require support from instructional designers, web-based education platform specialists, and videographers. They also leverage (and are contributing to the development of) specialized IT infrastructure including advanced authoring systems, gamification, cloud computing, big data, and analytics. While MOOCs can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop, their potential audience can also run into millions.

As of this writing, hundreds of MOOCs are being offered by US and foreign universities and millions of people have registered for them. But are they effective? They have been criticized for their lack of academic rigor. They also suffer from poor completion rates, with the bulk of participants dropping out in the first few days of the course. But they do offer the promise of making higher education and degrees accessible to a much larger chunk of the world’s population at a fraction of the cost, significantly reducing the cost of corporate training, and providing a convenient and cost-effective option for lifelong learning. If your organization is considering the implementation of a MOOC, give us a call. We offer research (MOOC16, MOOC 15) and consulting in this area!