Sunday, October 27, 2013

MOOCs and higher ed - can they live happily together?

I don't believe that MOOCs are going to replace universities in a tsunami revolution or other such headline-grabbing claims. I see MOOCs as primarily about informal lifelong learning rather than part of the credit-gathering formal education system, complementing rather than competing against it. They're another variant of all the online education that has been going on for the last 15 years or more. Different types of MOOC (or whatever they will be called in the future) fill different niches in a new educational ecosystem. However an interesting question is where MOOCs can be integrated into the formal system? I suspect we'll see varying degrees of integration and adaptation rather than massive disruption as touted by the headline makers.

One aspect is using the MOOC format to provide pre-university courses to get students on track and familiarise them with university study skills, information literacy, academic writing, source criticism and so on. These are skills that are supposed to permeate all courses but are often not explicitly taught and providing free pre-university courses would benefit both students and universities. There are already many examples of this in place but cooperation between universities is essential to prevent each one developing roughly the same course .

Another interesting idea comes from Martin Weller's post MOOCs As 1st Year Undergrad Replacement. He gives due credit to many of the xMOOCs in that they provide a good grounding in their subject area and could possibly replace many first year undergraduate courses which often have well over 100 students and where teacher-student interaction on campus is minimal.

"I know from doing my first degree in Psychology that the first year is really spent bringing everyone up to speed. A second year could then start on the assumption that all of the above is known to all students. This is where a conventional (campus or distance) university can step in. The MOOCs only take you so far. They're good at getting across content, but not so good at developing skills."

The idea is that a student could study an number of recommended MOOCs from various universities to get that first year grounding and then start start on campus for year two. The MOOC work would have to be validated and maybe some kind of examination task could be set to assess what has been learnt. The motivation here would be to save tuition fees for the first year and thereby making university more affordable. That's no motivation here in Sweden where there are no fees in higher education but in many other countries this makes a lot of sense. Many students will still want to study their first year on campus anyway but this option provides more flexibility. 

However, Weller closes by wondering:

"One parting thought - if this model was used successfully I wonder how long before the MOOC providers started charging for their courses to be used in this way?"


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