Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Four Facts About MOOCs

"Five Myths about MOOCs"My four facts on MOOCS are: cost, choice, quality, and continuity.

  1. It's All about Money
  2. MOOCs Create a Two-Tier Educational System
  3. MOOCs Are Inherently Inferior
  4. MOOCs Are Mechanistic
  5. We've Seen How This Plays Out
But in my view, MOOCs are, in part, marketing spin added onto e-learning techniques which have been around for at least ten years. Claims like those for MOOCs have been made for many technologies for large scale, low cost, open distance education have been made over the last 100 years.

At the moment I am in Perth, Western Australia, where Martin Dougiamas, developed the Moodle Learning Management System in 2002 (I am visiting Moodle HQ next week). Perth is also the home of the video lecture recording technology now sold as Echo 360.

The idea of low cost mass distributed distance education is at least one hundred of years old, with England having 45,000 university extension students by 1891:

The implications of broadcast technology for low cost, open entry university goes back to the founding of the UK Open University in the 1970s. The reasons for the founding of the university read very much like the arguments for MOOCs today.

This is not to say MOOCs are not a good idea, they are just not a new idea. Those who think that putting in MOOCs will solve their personal, institution, government, or society problems, need to look at the history of the claims made for previous such waves of education technology over the last 100 years.

Worthington's Four Truths About MOOCs:

  1. It is About Spending Money Wisely on Education: Both educators and budgeters want to get the maximum education for the available budget. But educators need to be careful they are not playing a zero sum game. If they increase the efficiency of education through using MOOCs, those providing the funding may see this as a way to cut budgets.
  2. MOOCs Continue a Diverse Education System: We already have at least a two tier education system: those with the money can pay for a better education. The question is if MOOCs provide an adequate education. In my view e-learning can do this, if it is done well. There is little point in having a high quality education system which is not affordable.
  3. MOOCs Are About Quality Mass Education: There is no getting away from the fact that MOOCs are about teaching the same thing to a large number of people (the "M" in MOOC is for "Massive"). This is not necessarily a bad thing. Modern mass production in industry results in very high quality low cost goods. Mass education can similar high quality.

    It used to be that hand crafting in manufacture was synonymous with quality, but mass produced consumer goods are now higher quality than hand crafted ones.

    Continuing the point about mass education, MOOCs, like e-learning of the last few decades and distance education of the last 100 years, work with carefully designed educational materials. Because a large number of students are using the materials, they have to be very carefully designed and tested. This does result in a more rigid approach to the subject. However, it also results in very well designed materials. As with manufacturing, you get a less custom product, but one which will be reliable and do what it is designed to do.
  4. MOOCs are built on 100 years of distance education experience: MOOCs are an adaption of e-learning techniques of the last 10 years, which were an adaption of distance education from 100 years. As in the past, proponents are over promising what the new technological adaption to learning can do, just as happened with fads for educational TV and radio. But when the fuss dies down there will be a place for MOOCs, alongside other form of education.

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