Saturday, August 17, 2013

MOOCs 1 - overview

I didn't get a lot of feedback on my post on massive open online courses (MOOCs) (Have you tried MOOCS? What did you think?), but I wanted to continue my discussion as a way of clarifying my own thoughts. It also makes a welcome break from the current Australian election campaign!

I suppose I should start by explaining further why I am interested in MOOCs.

To begin with, what is a MOOC? In simple terms, MOOC stands for:

  • Massive. The platforms used allow for almost any number of enrolments. In Autumn 2011, Stanford launched three courses each of which had over 100,000 enrolments. That's massive.
  • Open. The courses are open to anyone. There are no limitations on entry. Further, participation has been free, although that is changing.
  • Online. The entire course is delivered online. There is no campus.
  • Course. Students are enrolled in specific courses of varying lengths.

A free course from major institutions taken in your own home? What's the catch? Well, there are two. The first is that it requires a certain level of determination to get through. Completion rates are as low as 10%. The second is that, in the past, you got no recognition for your efforts. That's fine if you were doing something just for the sake of learning, not so good if you wanted something to put on your CV.

The costs involved in setting everything up are obviously tremendous, and then you give it away. Is that sustainable? No, its not. An institution might do certain things as an ad-on, but you can't do it in a core way for ever. There has to be money in it.

Now here we come to the basic product of a university or recognised training institution. It's not the course, but the qualification or tick at the end that counts. In measuring the economic value of education, for example, economists don't measure the value of the course, but of the qualification at the end.What extra income do people with degrees get?

Now once you have a mass audience, some at least may want to get the qualification. So what do you now do? You charge them for a test or exam and, if they pass, you give them the formal tick. As a former CEO of a specialist medical college, I know this system well. We charged our trainees a membership fee, that covered certain costs, but we also charged them an examination fee for the exams that they had to sit to test scientific knowledge.

Can you see why universities are worried?  I enrol in the course at no charge, then if I am doing well I pay for my test and get my qualification. Bingo, I am a graduate. It's actually not quite as simple as that. In my next post, I will look in more detail at the economics of MOOCs. 


Evan said...

I haven't done a MOOC so couldn't comment. I'm very interested in your thoughts of them though.

I agree entirely that the value of Uni's is now seen as credentialling - rather than knowledge (or heaven forfend, wisdom).

Jim Belshaw said...

When I was at school, Evan, my then head (Gordon Fisher)have me a book to read called Knowledge for What?" The point was, why do we learn.

Evan said...

Excellent question

Jim Belshaw said...

It is, Evan!

Nathan Lindorff said...

Coursera are starting to offer "Signature tracks". I haven't looked into them too much, as it's not really why I am doing it. What they are, from memory, is getting some sort of formal accreditation at the end, for a certain cost. I don't think that there is any additional work compared to the standard track, just the fee. Other courses, such as the music ones offered through coursera by Berkley School of Music are condensed / abbreviated versions of paid extended courses they offer on their own site.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks again, Nathan. I wonder how they do the assessment? Just the tests as they go along, or are there written exams that are actually marked?

You comment on reason for doing is an interesting one, as well as the shortened version of an existing offering. The personal or professional development need is obviously an important motivator.

Nathan Lindorff said...

I was planning on responding here, but I think in the end I probably covered it in my comment on the other post. Let me know if you want more info.

Anonymous said...

For those of us still in the classroom, still trying to herald the merits of the classroom, these new technologies are increasingly indispensable.  But these new technologies do not THINK.  They do not reflect, they do not plan, they do not adjust, and they do not care. They are not educators.

A fairly clear point of difference being stated by an educator wary of MOOCs - from here


Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for the link, kvd. Appreciated.