Sunday, 5 August 2012

Why MOOCs are not the future?

Power Searching with Google MOOC

I feel a tad self-conscious about putting my head above the parapit on this one, as I am talking against what many of my peers are 'bigging up', but what follows are some of my thoughts about MOOCs and why they are not the panacea their excitement might suggest....

Any 'free' and/or 'open' education offering is a great thing. Self-learners can engage with MOOCs to develop themselves, and even without accreditation, a lot of people just love to learn. I'm one of them. However, when it comes to the crunch, many people want to know their investment reaps tangible rewards. Now I know a lot of people will say the reward is in the fuller and broader understanding of the topic areas under consideration, which might then influence practice and ultimately see career progression. To which I fully agree, however a lot of people want to see a piece of paper at the end so they can prove they have successfully completed the course of study. And with many of the MOOC business models in existence, that often means a cost (although there are examples of accreditation - see MITx).

I am fully committed to furthering my own knowledge, skills, etc, and always look to engage in opportunities to do so. To this end, I've tried to engage in MOOCs in the past, starting with the Siemens/Downes 'original' a few years ago. I found it difficult to dedicate so much time to it (even more so as employers are unlikely to allow teams of staff dedicated time to 'study' MOOCS). I found it difficult to maintain motivation for something I felt would have little impact. The same can be said for many of the other MOOCs around. I also quickly lost interest in the Udacity (CS101) 'Building a Search Engine' course. [Perhaps this says more about me than it does the MOOCs in question ;-) ] In fact the only one I have enjoyed and importantly, stuck with, is the 'Power Searching with Google' course recently.

I don't think I'm much different to many. Whilst in one hand, we hear of the Massive (capital M) participation figures, we hear less of the massive drop out figures - this Bostinno article suggests in one course, of 200,000 participants, 160,000 dropped out.). I wonder if this will prove a critical challenge for the MOOC going forward.

Other challenges

Along with the massive drop out figures, I think the current lack of sustainable business models might provide a key barrier to more institutions developing MOOCs. So to, is the problem of accreditation. I've already ranted about my rejection of the child-like metaphor of the Badge [ooh yippee, a badge. I want one Mummy ;-) ]. I've created my Mozilla Open Badge Backpack, but I just don't see how, as more and more badges are created/awarded, that they can be recognised by employers if there is no benchmarking (for want of a better word). I might create an activity to award a badge in advanced Javascript, but a) that doesn't mean you're actually any good at it, and b) is the badge equivalent to other Javascript badges? I don't think I'm alone in thinking this - whilst I was discussing MOOCs with one of my colleagues Catherine Wasiuk, she commented;
"I think that they are great for informal learning and maybe as a bit of a marketing tool for Universities. Not sure if I would want someone who has completed a MOOC in brain surgery to perform an operation on me though!!"
So what's your point of view on MOOCs? Great for personal development or the future of (online) education? I personally don't think they will be the death of education, but what do you think?

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.


  1. Replies
    1. hey,

      Sorry for not being explicit.
      Audrey Watters' post explains MOOCs here -

  2. Whether a MOOC works for you very much depends on which topic you want to study and what your reasons are for studying, I think. Google's Powersearch course worked well because nearly everyone uses Google search and wants to get the most out of it. It's more for personal "gain" (being better at searching) than for showing off to (potential) employers. Other courses, e.g. CPD23, are based on well-regarded concepts (e.g. 23 Things) and might be recognised in a profession as useful but would probably not work as a stand-alone qualification. You will nearly always need some sort of official qualifications that you can enhance with regular CPD. MOOCs are ideal for CPD if you have to look after that as an individual as a lot of people can't afford to pay for lots of extra courses, conferences, etc.- if your enjoyed has a training budget it's a bit different.
    And of course MOOCs are perfect for marketing, like you say.

    1. Hey Carolin,

      Thanks for commenting. As you say, and as Lawrie suggests below, MOOCs are great for additional study - I'm just concerned at how much attention they have been getting recently.

  3. I agree with the main thrusts of your argument, but I am less concerned with the dropout rate. With HE being very expensive an explosion of informal learning opportunities for people to 'try' is possibly a good thing. And if the figures cited in the BostInno article are correct then 40,000 people got some form of learning. No bad thing. I'm currently signed up to take a course form the Coursera catalogue and looking forward to it, but I know I will only get out what I put in and I'm doing with no drivers - i.e. for my own interest, so if time or any other reason becomes an issue there is no 'loss to me. I also have a friend who is off to do a two year vocational degree to qualify as a paramedic, she is doing a course about the science of Cardiac Resuscitation which she hopes will help her excel on her course. So I think that drop out rate in MOOCs may be very different to attending a university and we shouldn't benchmark against them (may be the norm for MOOCs is 60%?)
    However, my main concern about MOOCs is that as innovators in learning and teaching (I'm probably not anymore, but I speak generally of staff and educational developers, including 'learning technologists') we are transferring the worst of what we perceive now to an online environment - e.g a large class that is talked at with little or no interaction and with little opportunity to give informed feed back - don't tell me that a dozen lecturers can feedback to 200,000 students meaningfully! And yes I realise that we could use methods such as 'peer learning' but where are the checks and balances that ensure quality. 6 students learning something wrong together are still learning it wrong! In a university course of 200 that is picked up, in a course of 200, 000....
    And badges, don't get me started. Years of trying to get students to learn deeply, thrown away in an instant. Badges are the apocalypse of deep learning in HE students, a lazy way of accrediting or a childish motivator? Either way it goes against what I believe HE is for.

    1. Hi Lawrie,

      I agree. This type of 'teaching' or 'pedagogy', or whatever it is, is not good practice or innovative. But I'm not sure there is really an effective teaching approach to sufficiently cater to 200,000 students. Is there? So I think part of the buzz is that anyone can 'attend' a lecture given by a Stanford Professor, which of course must be the best education in the world. As you suggest though, there is much more to teaching and learning than being spoken at for an hour; things that can't necessarily be picked up through these approaches.

      I suspect the advocates would disagree and suggest the constructivist/connectivist perspectives facilitate and scaffold, but I'm not so sure, especially when a relatively small proportion of the overall intake participate in forums etc.

      I wonder if elements of these MOOCs, might be more appropriately reused to 'flip' the classroom or provide directed further 'reading'...

      p.s. I'm glad I'm not alone in not liking the badge or its metaphor!

  4. Agree with Lawrie, and don't think anyone with an understanding of education is seriously proposing that MOOCs are any more than an interesting outreach tool. Sadly, the hype machine is rolling - and we have to be sure that we don't repeat the mistakes that were made in the early years of this century.

    1. Cheers David.
      I'm glad you guys are thinking the way you are. As you say the hype machine is rolling. As I said above, a lot of people see 'attending' lectures from Stanford Professors *must* be the best education ever, but many don't recognise everything else that happens in teaching and learning.

      Thanks for commenting.