Thursday, May 1, 2014

Can Research Rescue Distance Education from the Coming MOOC Crash?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a hot topic at the moment, but I suspect the bubble will burst within the next six months. Research coming out now indicates MOOCs are not delivering the claimed benefits. There is a risk that governments, universities and students may conclude that because MOOCs did not work, therefore online Distance Education (DE) in general does not work. Perhaps DE research can help work out what went wrong with MOOCs, salvage something useful from them and at the same time prevent the MOOC crash setting back progress with online education.

Some of the claims made for MOOCs are that they are free and open. It should be reasonably simple to use a survey techniques, to find out what costs students have in relation to MOOCs. As an example, do students purchase additional computer equipment, or networking, to be able to undertake MOOCs? Do they purchase additional study materials or equipment? Is there any difference between these costs and those for conventional online courses? Does the low completion rate of MOOCs increase their real cost to the students? Jordan 2014) looked at the low completion rates of MOOCs. Lane (2013) looks at the policy objectives of MOOCs and relates these to past open education, in particular UK Open University.

In terms of openness, why aren't the expected students signing up? The proponents of MOOCs emphasise the value for those who have not had access to education, particularly in developing nations. However, the "MOOCs @ Edinburgh Report #1"(2013) suggests students tend to already have degrees and are from developed countries. Why aren't those without university qualifications in developing nations taking up these courses? Is it because the courses are in a language they do not speak, because the topics will not help with their employment, or because they do not have time to study?

Glance, Forsey & Riley (2013) looked at the educational design claims made for MOOCs and the reality. They note that the use of shortLane, A. (2013). The potential of MOOCs to widen access to, and success in, higher education study. From videos, popularised by the Khan Academy, is an adaptation of the technique of tutoring with formative feedback, found to be effective by Bloom (1984). However, some other of the approaches found effective in research have yet to be incorporated into MOOCs. For example, it was suggested by Bloom (1984):
"If students develop good study habits, devote more time to the learning, improve their reading skills, and so on, they will be better able to learn from a particular teacher and course—even though neither the course nor the teacher has undergone a change process."
The study habits, time spent and reading skills do not appear to be directly addressed in current MOOCs.
Conventional universities, and their online equivalents, do address study skills, through optional training available to the student. The same might be incorporated in the MOOC by some form of quiz, which would asses the student’s needs and refer them to a preparatory course.


Bloom, B. S. (1984). The 2 sigma problem: The search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one tutoring. Educational researcher, 4-16. From

Glance, D., Forsey, M., & Riley, M. (2013). The pedagogical foundations of massive open online courses. First Monday, 18(5). doi:10.5210/fm.v18i5.4350 From

Jordan, K. (2014). Initial trends in enrolment and completion of massive open online courses. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 15(1). From

Lane, A. (2013). The potential of MOOCs to widen access to, and success in, higher education study. From
MOOCs @ Edinburgh 2013: Report #1. (2013). From

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