MOOCs: Use with Caution

The prospect of attending school online is interesting because it’s unconventional and at first-glance it’s not incredibly obvious what the costs and benefits of such a practice might be for education.

The Selingo, Carey, Pennington, Fishman and Palmer piece does a great job at making MOOCs sound like a quick-fix of sorts in the effort to expand educational access. Their case is that existing institutions of higher education can make available more degree-seeking spots to students and enroll those students in partially or fully online course loads. This would allow these schools to produce more degrees (and thus generate more human capital) while skirting some of the constraints that come along with providing traditional education settings to students. They framed MOOCs as a possible solution to dwindling state funding, too, as MOOCs would allow a low-cost alternative to the current and high-cost education infrastructure like classrooms.

However, the concerns raised by Kelly warrant consideration. Said concerns include: those who self-select to participate in MOOCs are not those who necessarily need more education or aren’t those who would benefit the most, and that MOOC completion rates are too low to replace in-person instruction.

From what I have learned about MOOCs, it seems that the realistic merits of their use in disrupting existing education practices (specifically to the end of expanding educational access) has yet to be seen. The most realistic possibility for the incorporation of MOOCs seems to be in a way that complements current education practices, perhaps in a “hybrid” format as discussed in numerous readings for this week. Online or partially-online course options may be made available to students who opt in to them (and thus can be done around students’ work schedules) without penalizing those who benefit more from the traditional classroom setting. However, complete substitution of traditional classroom settings with online alternatives should only happen if some of the above concerns are addressed.

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