Thursday, April 24, 2014

Triage On-line Students To Reduce Costs

The report from University of Pennsylvania "The Life Cycle of a Million MOOC Users" (Perna,   Ruby,  Boruch, et. al., 5 December  2013) reports that few persist with this form of on-line course and that participants are predominately educated, wealthy  males. This and other recent research contradicts the early claims for MOOCs as a low cost way to bring education to disadvantaged people.

In December last year (at an event to promote some new MOOCs) I suggested that we could expect a backlash against MOOCs in mid 2014. That rethinking of MOOCs is now taking place. Hopefully other forms of e-learning, which are based on decades of experience, will not suffer in the process.

The research about MOOCs does not show anything new: we already had a good idea about who distance education courses were popular with and what they needed to succeed, from previous on-line a and paper based distance education courses. Like previous forms of distance education, MOOCs have a lower completion rate, are popular with those who already have qualifications and some form of tutoring is needed for a large proportion of students.

One approach which might be used is Triage. This is a procedure, applied in emergency medicine, to prioritise treatment for those who it will most befit. Applying this approach to education, students would be divided into three groups:
  1. Students who are likely to complete the course without assistance,
  2. Students who are unlikely to complete, even with help,
  3. Students who will complete only with help.
The education resources would then be devoted to the third group. It may be that some students from the first group can be used to tutor the others.

Conventional courses do apply some form of triage. Courses have entry requirements and some have entrance examinations: students not meeting the entry requirements are not permitted to proceed. Teachers know that they will need to devote most of their efforts to a few students who have difficulties. There may be some form of remedial class to help these students.

This process might be made more explicit with on-line courses. The students could fill in an on-line questionnaire about their experience and qualifications and do an automated test. The student could then be advised which group they fall into. If not suitable for the course, they could be directed to a preparatory course. If likely to complete unaided they would be allowed to enter a MOOC-like course (and perhaps sign up as a tutor for other students). If they are likely to require assistance, the student would be required to pay for tutoring.