Friday, May 3, 2013

MOOC quality project

How can we assess quality in a MOOC? Is it even possible to have quality assurance in an educational form that is constantly developing and is already split into several distinct categories?

Over the next couple of months I will be helping to run a blog called The MOOC Quality Project under the banner of EFQUEL (European Foundation for Quality in E-learning) together with colleagues Ulf-Daniel Ehlers and Ebba Ossiannilsson. The project will feature leading experts in the field of open education who will take turns in writing a weekly blog post on how they see the issue of quality in MOOCs.

- The MOOC Quality Project, an initiative of the European Foundation for Quality in E-Learning (, attempts to stimulate a discourse on the issue of Quality of MOOCs. A series of blog posts of worldwide experts and entrepreneurs will address the issue from each particpant’s viewpoint. After each blog post we will allow a one week period of time to react and comment on the post made available. At the end of the week the discussion will be shortly summarized and made available to all.

We hope that the articles will stimulate discussion and we will use the findings as the basis of a session at the conference EFQUEL Innovation Forum 26-27 September in Barcelona.

This subject is extremely relevant in response to the extreme hype surrounding MOOCs and the expected skeptical reaction. How can we apply quality assurance methods in this field since MOOCs differ significantly from "regular" courses? First of all there is no clear definition of a MOOC. Many of them are not so massive, few are genuinely open and some are not really even courses in the traditional sense. Donald Clark recently listed the diversity of MOOC models in his post MOOCs: taxonomy of 8 types of MOOC. There's a huge gulf between the open connectivist learning networks of the courses run by the likes of George Siemens and Stephen Downes and the more traditional lecture-based model offered by Coursera. So it's difficult to discuss quality in MOOCs in general terms, it depends on which type of MOOC.

One key quality factor is missing in MOOCs, namely the target group. Courses normally have a clear target group and can measure success by how well the course meets the needs of that group. There is no real target group in a MOOC, everyone is welcome. The participants' aims and motivations differ widely and many have no intention of even completing the course. How do we then assess the quality of a course that will mean very different things to many different people?

At a basic level a MOOC offers free access to a collection of educational resources that together form a logically linked progression. Quality here is the value and relevance of the resources and how they are linked. Many MOOCs have little or no qualified tutoring or guidance, only offering online arenas for student communication. These arenas can be quality assessed for their functionality but little more since what goes on there is out of the control of the organisers. Maybe the real quality issues of the MOOC phenomenon lies in the "value-added" services that are on higher layers than the course material. If tutoring, guidance, validation and examination are available at a price then these add-ons can be more easily assessed and quality guidelines set up.

It'll be very interesting to read the views of the experts in weeks to come!

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