In my last post, I discussed the possibility of a new paradigm where individual skills sets are pursued, followed by an awarding of a certificate upon a test of competency. These certificates would be earned in lieu of, or in addition to, a university degree. Technology has evolved to the point where online delivery of curriculum via the Internet has become a reality. Now we are on the brink of a new form of online course work delivery — the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) phenomenon.
Beyond the highly publicized EdX initiative jointly being developed by MIT and Harvard University, new companies such as Coursera (backed by Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania) and Udacity (founded by a Stanford University professor and financed by venture capitalists). These came about, in large part, due to the extremely popular Sebastian Thrun’s artificial intelligence course at Stanford that “enrolled” 160,000 in Fall 2011. His new company, Udacity now claims over 100,000 active students enrolled. All three offer open — cost free — online courses via the Web.
If the courses are totally free and available online, how are these newly formed companies to make any profit? They are borrowing from the current business model used by the certification companies — they charge for the testing and issuance of the certificates. Udacity has taken it a step further and is working with recruitment firms to identify and pass along the contact information of the best performing students in a desired discipline and are charging “head hunter” fees to the hiring companies. These companies have become a new form of for-profit education. One other MOOC is the Khan Academy, which I personally have endorsed for three years. The Khan Academy is non-profit and has grant backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
So… is there a MOOC in your future? Consider what’s involved and what is to be gained, or wasted, before jumping in. The promise of one quick course, get a certificate, land a great job, is not realistic. However, if you follow the original premise of these MOOCs — education simply for the joy of learning new skills or acquiring knowledge — then they are ideal. Additional learning via the Internet is certainly in order — indeed, is required — in the Information Technology courses I teach. Also, if you have been in one of my mathematics courses, you have surrogatedly been exposed to the Khan Academy when I demonstrate linear equation factoring!
As anyone who has taken an online course can attest, it is not for everyone — even more so when there is not an active online instructor. For example, of the 160,000 students in Dr. Thrun’s artificial intelligence course, a mere 248 got all of the answers correct when testing came around. The discipline required to excel in an unsupervised course online is of the highest level. Have a question? Good luck getting a timely answer when there are more than 100,000 students. I taught an Electrical Engineering course at Utah State University with “only” 140 students and relied on an aide to help correct homework.
Do I think there is a place for MOOCs in our program(s) at Broadview University? I resoundingly do! I am a strong proponent of the “flipped classroom” wherein the online homework is assigned prior to the lecture/discussion period in class. This affords the student the opportunity to learn the material at their own pace and then be prepared to actively participate in the classroom. “Look it up” is a common phrase in my classroom and provides applied learning to the proverbial “how do I…” questions that arise in a programming course, for example. The student can look in the book, online resources, or the previously assigned course reference site. Meanwhile, if their online learning leads them to more online learning and a certificate from a MOOC — Yea!