In another Executive Briefing I discussed 1906 teaching and assessment practices that dominate today's college classrooms, and why they need to change to accommodate the last five decades of generalizations from learning and measurement sciences.
The prevalence of a pre-scientific mentality is not limited to traditional college classrooms; it extends to MOOCs, an education model that is pedagogically similar to (albeit technologically advanced over) the correspondence schools that used to be advertised on the insides of matchbook covers. To be clear, there is an audience for MOOCS, just as there was an audience for the matchbook correspondence schools. That audience consists of individuals who are self-motivated to learn the subject area and who possess enough in situ competence to progress without the help of a real teacher. These requirements describe five to fifteen percent of those who might want to learn the topic. These percentages are closely reflected in the success rate of MOOCs. For most topics, however, most of us benefit from the services of competent teachers and structured interactions with other students (horizontal learning).
In their present most common form, MOOCs cannot teach or assess what I see as “the more important half” of learning outcomes. Specifically, the horizontal and affective dimensions of learning that are highly correlated with personal and professional success.
I can understand the motives of administrators of online programs to embrace MOOCs. They fit the prevailing online platforms well. I wonder, would the Department of Education or the institutional accreditors approve of a robust and exciting learning environment based on what we now know about how people learn, retain, and apply their learning efficiently? It seems unlikely at present. Anyone who doubts this should reflect on the fact that the Department's IG wants to close online programs that do not conform to his 1906 notions of Carnegie seat time. How does Carnegie align with MOOCs?
Considering a MOOC?
Like placebos, MOOCs are worth considering while they have the ability to do good. Few will argue against the potential for high financial margins.
Should you develop a family of MOOC programs? It depends. Both matchbook and MOOC programs are effective ways to educate individuals who have well-developed self-education skills and who are motivated to succeed in the specific content area. MOOCs succeed - that is, a decent percent of those enrolling complete the course of study - when these two criteria are applied as admissions filters. MOOCs even do a little better than their matchbook counterpart because they embed additional pedagogical tools.
If you have content in mind for an engaged and competent audience MOOCs may be a good idea. If you do not have a good handle on the audience or if you are thinking about self-selected open admissions, keep in mind that your success ratio may be in the range of 5-15%. The 85-95% who fail MOOCs are made up of students possessing a combination of being less motivated, lacking self-study skills, or requiring the services of a teacher.
If you choose an open admissions model, you will want to make an affirmative decision about how much to charge for programs that demonstrate very high failure rates. Perhaps you would choose to charge for transcribing credit rather than for attending the course. However you charge, keep in mind that MOOCs are not appropriate for students who need the services of a professional teacher.