Education Blog

MOOC and Higher Education

October 21, 2013

Higher education has never been this expensive. Nor has it been as sharply criticized for its perceived lack of effectiveness. Amid these challenges, some major “disruptive innovations” have occurred. MOOC is one of them.

MOOC, or Massive Open Online Courses, has been receiving so much attention that it has become an official entry in the Oxford Dictionary. MOOC offers college level courses in nine different languages and in a vast variety of disciplines. Among a long list are courses in literature, statistics, art, sports, computer science, and veterinary science. A large number of enthusiasts worldwide have participated in MOOC. The attractions are multiple: flexibility, easy and free access, and the “visibility effect” of big-name universities/professors.

Not only are individuals embracing MOOC. More and more higher education institutions are seizing the opportunity to jump on the MOOC bandwagon. They are entering into partnerships with MOOC providers such as Coursera and edX. MOOC is not just aiming to change the landscape of U.S. higher education, but it is venturing into the global arena. For example, China and France will soon see new MOOC initiatives, as announced by Coursera and edX respectively.

MOOC has also made significant progress in an important aspect of higher education, accreditation. Even though traditional accreditation tends to focus on institutions, colleges, or programs, the American Council on Education (ACE) evaluated five Coursera MOOCs and recommended them for credit. 

In spite of all the enthusiasm and promises, there has been no lack of “anti-MOOC” voices. Poor retention rates are frequently cited. However, MOOC supporters argue that not every MOOC enrollee intends to finish – some merely are curious and some only want to learn part of a course.  Therefore, it seems that measures such as retention or completion rates do not necessarily apply to MOOCs.

Another obvious challenge that MOOC faces is assessment, i.e., how to document and assess a learner’s completion of courses and mastery of materials. MOOC providers are working diligently to solve this issue. For example, one MOOC provider, Coursera, uses photos, photo ID, and typing pattern recognition software to confirm a student’s identity.

Disruptive innovations are never easy. To what extent will MOOC be able to help alleviate higher education’s tough challenges? Will MOOC be accepted by higher education as well as the general public as a promising alternative? If yes, when and to what extent? It is hard to predict.

Kübler-Ross (1997) identified five stages of grief that people experience: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Similarly, there will be multiple stages of “grief” that higher education will go through when such disruptive innovations as MOOC occur.

Kübler-Ross, E. (1997). On death and dying. New York, NY: Scribner.  


Post Created by: Dr. Yuerong Sweetland, Director of Assessment, Accreditation and Institution Effectiveness, Franklin University

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