MOOCs - What are your thoughts?

Earlier in the week, I read the following article in the Boston Globe, explaining how MOOCs are disrupting higher education:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/05/09/moocs-disruption-only-beginning/S2VlsXpK6rzRx4DMrS4ADM/story.html

Then today there's an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education indicating that no such disruption is occurring:

http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/conventional-online-higher-education-will-absorb-moocs-2-reports-say/52603?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

Obviously there will always be opposing views/opinions, but I thought it was interesting to see both articles within days of one another. What are your thoughts on MOOCs?

26 Replies
Nick n/a

With regards to MOOCS, it depends if they're going to be financially viable, acceptable by employers as a route to train and gain qualifications and if they'll be accepted.

 I mean we have MOOCS available sure and they are interesting to try out and learn from but something like Khan Academy does a decent job as well. I do like them as an alternative structure to sitting in a lecture hall where I only have the lesson repeated once. But they're still just part of a larger developing structure IMO.

Nick n/a

Well, if you take a MOOC you could still get a piece of paper. (If you pay for it.)

Are you looking at MOOCS from the perspective or Higher Education students or for those working in jobs?

I would say anyone working in a university would not want to lose their jobs because of MOOCS, but the fees for education are really high now.

Ashley Chiasson

I work in a university, so I see a bit of both sides I suppose. Most faculty members are actually fairly receptive to MOOCs, they don't seem to feel threatened by them. Although, the same cannot be said for distance ed. It seems some faculty members associate putting their courses online with giving their intellectual property away (not true) and potentially losing their job (also not true). I think it's just uncertainty that drives these feelings. Another thing with universities is that it seems to be increasingly prevalent that institutions hire PT faculty members instead of FT faculty members, so that's probably more of a work to professors.

The greatest benefit to me would be that of the information access...having access to course materials from reputable institutions is an amazing opportunity for anyone self-motivated

Nick n/a

''The greatest benefit to me would be that of the information access...having access to course materials from reputable institutions is an amazing opportunity for anyone self-motivated.''

It would be nice to access all the courses a reputable institution offer. Although some MOOCS provide great courses from certain universities, they feel more like a taster course IMO.

Bruce Graham

Attended some of the MIT Media Labs MOOC series last year - very interesting, and more a test of technology in many cases than learning.

They are running the Lifelong Kindergarten series again at the moment, and I've been unable to attend.

Bottom line in my opinion...we have been doing successful (and unsuccessful) Virtual ILT (v-ILT) for years. The MOOC is surely just an extension of that.

Acceptable online qualifications will happen soon enough, as soon as a few of the Ivy League / Russell Group universities and so on start issuing them.

They are just another step forward in the options available to some for delivery, and some for consumption.

Cary Glenn

I'm not a fan of MOOCs. I have tried a few classes and have yet to finish one. The dropout rate on MOOCs is about 95%.

For the most part MOOCs are talking head lectures, which is a poor use of the medium. The interactivity is almost non-existent. I have found that I can learn more by reading a book on the subject.

Bruce Graham

Cary Glenn said:

I'm not a fan of MOOCs. I have tried a few classes and have yet to finish one. The dropout rate on MOOCs is about 95%.

For the most part MOOCs are talking head lectures, which is a poor use of the medium. The interactivity is almost non-existent. I have found that I can learn more by reading a book on the subject.


Wondering whether the 5% that stay are the ones that it is REALLY beneficial for - therefore you could argue it a good thing?

The one I attended was video on presenters, slides, etc. Quiet impressive.

John Nixdorf

However online learning is structured, it is going to disrupt the traditional bricks-and-mortar college model. The disruption will be very fast and very destructive to schools that don't adapt.

What killed vaudeville? Performers would "sell their act." That is, allow it to be filmed. The film could then play in hundreds of theaters simultaneously, and repetitively, and nobody had to pay the performers again for it. And, people were able to look at the best jugglers and comedians, not just who happened to be in town.

Why sit through a face-to-face semester of boring art history lectures with crappy visuals taught by a C-list professor when you can sit down over a weekend and watch a world-reknown authority take you through a well-designed tour of whatever it is you're studying with excellent visuals?

Sure, you miss the climbing wall and binge drinking, but you can get your degree in a lot less time, for a lot less money.

Ashley had a good point, employers use a college degree as a gating function to ensure basic literacy and numeracy for jobs that don't have a specific technical component (STEM subjects, accounting). More fools they! I've known lots of liberal arts graduates who didn't have an 8th grader's grasp of basic arithmetic or science. Lots of jobs (Instructional Designer, cough) could be done by someone with a 1-year certificate and apprenticeship.

Cary Glenn

Bruce Graham said:

Cary Glenn said:

I'm not a fan of MOOCs. I have tried a few classes and have yet to finish one. The dropout rate on MOOCs is about 95%.

For the most part MOOCs are talking head lectures, which is a poor use of the medium. The interactivity is almost non-existent. I have found that I can learn more by reading a book on the subject.


Wondering whether the 5% that stay are the ones that it is REALLY beneficial for - therefore you could argue it a good thing?

The one I attended was video on presenters, slides, etc. Quiet impressive.

I don't think you have enough evidence to make that argument.
Ashley Chiasson

John Nixdorf said:

Ashley had a good point, employers use a college degree as a gating function to ensure basic literacy and numeracy for jobs that don't have a specific technical component (STEM subjects, accounting). More fools they! I've known lots of liberal arts graduates who didn't have an 8th grader's grasp of basic arithmetic or science. Lots of jobs (Instructional Designer, cough) could be done by someone with a 1-year certificate and apprenticeship.


Some employers don't even use the college degrees as a gating function, it's more of a formality...like a checklist ("does applicant have X degree? Yes? Proceed with interview"). I've worked for organizations that had strict hiring requirements, when really you could grab someone from the bus stop and explain the task, and they could likely do it. Silliness.

I think the other issue here is that people love to complain :P 

Ralf  Baum

It is really very difficult to weigh up the arguments.

On the one hand Moocs are a fascinating possibility to learn sth. from universities located at the other side of the world. It is quite easy to enlarge your knowledge if you are willing to learn sth. on your own and for your own.

On the other hand I can see that producing Moocs is not the bread and butter business for most universities. Means the content owner has not a contract for producing Moocs. This leads to voluntary extra work for the persons who produce the Mooc. Then the motivation should be high enough to produce 1 course but then these experts do not have the time to schedule another one.


I have completed two Mooc courses and I had the possibility to see that the experts shared the content with passion and enthusiasm. But there is always the question who pays for this extra work. If you will have to pay for a verified certificate it would decrease the amount of users who finish a course.

The certificate of Moocs will have no efficient effect on your work career. To have a Mooc - certificate will show your interest in that topic but you will have no additional gain for promotions.

Joseph Flanagan

The two articles are not really that different: both suggest that MOOCs are going to have change significantly from what they are if they are going to economically viable. I found the Globe article claiming that MOOCs have already had a disruptive effect on universities to be a bit of a stretch, however. It's difficult to show that MOOCs are responsible for the trends he cites, since some of them predate the rise of MOOCs (flipped and blended classrooms) and others (reduced costs) could be due to something else entirely (political pressure, changing student demographics, reduced state funding, etc.). 

MOOCs currently don't really compete with universities: the statistics I've seen suggest that the people who complete MOOCs already have a degree, and I think many take MOOCs for personal enrichment than to become qualified for a job. There's nothing wrong with serving that population, but it isn't what early hype of MOOCs promised. 

I personally found courses on Lynda.com to be better than the MOOCs I've been on, but the sample sizes for each are so small that doesn't mean anything (plus my reasons for taking them were different). 

I would say that creating a really good online community  is extremely difficult, and if MOOCs are going to continue to be  "massive," more needs to be known about how to create those communities (as well as how to have effective peer assessment). 

Bruce Graham

Perhaps MOOCs will gain some traction, then departments will hire someone dedicated to constructing, marketing and then running them.

I think it is a natural progression from where we are now, in the same way that eLearning was a few years ago, and many people said it would never last.

I remember getting my only ever career "verbal reprimand" once for apparently "frightening" everyone by suggesting that you could EVER teach all, or any of presentation skills online. How times have changed.

John Wagner

This is an interesting discussion. First time I've heard the term MOOC. I had to Google it and read what it was to understand what this discussion was all about. Glad I did. I am a pastor and have been creating online "courses" for those I minister to who are not always able to attend our brick and mortar sanctuary services. The more I get involved with online ministry the more applicable MOOC instruction appears to be. Many questions I receive come from people around the globe who read my articles and posts.

I am currently involved with the Articulate community because it is the first place I've found that offers definite online courses for free that I can translate into immediate productivity! The free PowerPoint courses on here have been an incredible benefit to my personal conference presentations. I am also improving my online material. But ultimately, I am seeing how Storyline will definitely help me create online courses that will take my online ministry to a much higher level.

The courses I will be developing will be offered free of charge, but I will still need to learn how to create a method of registering those who want to take the courses. I realize I still have a lot to learn. But I'm excited about the incredible possibilities!

Andrew Winner

Sebastian Thrun, who founded Udacity and is kind of considered the father of MOOCs, came out last year and said that MOOCs maybe aren't the best delivery method for teaching undergrads. This was a somewhat shocking admission for everyone who was involved in the MOOC craze in 2013. 

http://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/sebastian-thrun-moocs-not-effective-for-undergraduate-education-after-all/

Basically, he thinks that MOOCs are probably better-suited for professional development purposes as opposed to undergraduate coursework.

I would add that I think that MOOCs are best-suited for STEM topics -- machine learning, artificial intelligence, and so forth. I took a MOOC on public speaking and another on the Classics. They were interesting, but I didn't finish either one (which seems to be the most common outcome for any MOOC, sadly). 

Jade Kelsall

Joseph Flanagan said:

 MOOCs currently don't really compete with universities: the statistics I've seen suggest that the people who complete MOOCs already have a degree, and I think many take MOOCs for personal enrichment than to become qualified for a job. There's nothing wrong with serving that population, but it isn't what early hype of MOOCs promised.


I couldn't agree more with this!

I also agree with some earlier comments about drop-out rates; many of those signing up (like me, and many of you I suspect) sign up to see what all the fuss is about then rapidly lose it when life gets in the way. But with the sizes of cohorts that MOOCs have, a 5% completion rate still represents a significant number of students.

As a four time MOOC drop-out, my experience has been extremely varied. I've seen one that is nothing more than a bunch of video lectures about common science topics - no new research, nothing that couldn't be already found online; their instructional design model seemed to be based on "if you throw enough sh*t, some will stick". I've seen others that made extremely effective use of community forums to spark debate, with thoughtful mini-assignments and engaging (short!) video content.

I'd be interested to see if any research has been done into the reasons behind the high drop-out rates. I attended a talk on MOOCs recently; the speaker ran one that had extremely positive feedback, though obviously all the evaluation data comes from people who have made it to the end.