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MOOC Mania: What You Need to Know

If you feel like you can’t escape news about MOOCs, you’re not imagining it. People in academe were still wrapping their minds around Georgia Tech’s MOOC master’s program when Coursera burst onto the scene early this morning to announce its new partnerships with 10 state university systems. Unlike a lot of things in higher education, “MOOC Mania” is moving at lightning speed—and leaving many institutions, faculty and administrators very anxious.
That’s why, for me, today’s Inside Higher Ed webinar, The MOOC Moment, could not have come at a better time. Editors Scott Jaschik and Doug Lederman provided an insightful and comprehensive history, laid out the arguments for and against, raised some important questions about the future, and most importantly reminded me not to panic. MOOCs have only been on the scene for roughly 18 – 24 months, after all. They’re just babies!
While Scott and Doug made it clear that it’s far too early to gauge the effectiveness of MOOCs or their overall impact on higher education, it is clear that there’s a market for them. Here are some key takeaways from their presentation, as well as a few issues to keep an eye on as the MOOC movement continues.
Why the Madness?
One major reason is the attention MOOCs are getting from mainstream media.(Seriously, you’d think Justin Timberlake was somehow involved!)Another factor is the origin of many MOOCs at elite institutions — giving them major credibility very quickly.
MOOCs and Money
Like so many other things, MOOCs impact institutions’ bottom lines and bring up an endless list of financial considerations.There’s the potential to make (or at least save) money through MOOCs, but what’s the real cost to student learning when institutions pay to license lectures from other providers versus hiring their own faculty?Then again, if MOOCs are used as an entryway to a particular area of study, with more advanced courses being completed traditionally, would they be an effective way to cut costs? There are myriad other issues to consider as well — ranging from whether, and how, institutions should change their business models to account for MOOCs, to whether they should provide tuition discounts to students who complete MOOCs through other institutions.(Note that the MOOC pioneers all have very deep pockets—leaving them more room to experiment.)
Are Students Really Learning?
To me, this is the most important issue. Cost aside, are students really learning anything from MOOCs? Completion rates for most MOOCs are in the single digits. But beyond that, we still really don’t know how effective they are.So, for all of those institutions debating whether to jump on the MOOC bandwagon, the lack of evidence in this area is one very compelling reason to hold off a bit longer.
What’s Ahead?
As MOOCs come of age, there are still major questions to answer. How will quality be measured? How will student success be measured? How will the faculty role be changed? How will the role of peers change? Will credit hours be further redefined?How will MOOCs be regulated?
Whether you’re an enthusiast or a skeptic when it comes to MOOCs, you’re bound to have plenty of opportunities for debate in the coming months and years. Things are changing so quickly that I have a feeling Scott and Doug will have enough material for an updated presentation six months from now. If they do, I’d recommend logging on!