MOOCs and Innovation

Originally posted by Rochelle Diogenes on Acrobatiq.

Last week, MIT announced they’re making Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) part of their admissions process–candidates for their one-year Supply Chain Management master’s program will enhance their chances of acceptance into the program if they successfully complete relevant MOOCs before application. If they are accepted into the program, they will get credit for their online work and only have to complete one semester on campus to get their degree.

Why is this exciting? Like adaptive courseware, MOOCs are fairly new. The University of Manitoba’s Stephen Downes and George Siemens built the first online course called a MOOC in 2008 to see just how learning might be accomplished using the internet. Since then there’s been a lot of speculation about how MOOCs fit into the broad spectrum of education.

Initially, many hailed MOOCs as the wave of the future. Others saw them as a disruptive, revolutionary force that would replace colleges. When early reports showed that retention or course completion in MOOCs was less than 10%, many education stakeholders breathed a sigh of relief—MOOCs would not replace or even really compete with institutions of higher education.

Others, like Koller, Ng, Do and Chen in Retention and Intention in Massive Open Online Courses: In Depth aren’t ready to write off MOOCs. Retention should be understood in context. MOOCs have large enrollments, many with over 100,000 students. Where 10% would be a ridiculously low retention rate for a college class of 100, for a MOOC, 10% represents more students than some faculty reach in a decade. Koller et al. suggest we change the way we evaluate MOOCs:

…one can relate the act of enrolling in a free online class to that of checking out a book from a public library…Some people might read a few chapters of a nonfiction book and stop after getting enough information to suit their needs. Others might read more deliberately and renew the book a few times before finishing. In both cases, few would consider the lack of completion or the extra time taken to be a waste or a failure of the book.

MIT’s new policy is also asking us to look at MOOCs in a different way–as a “test” for admission. The shortcomings of standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT are well-known. Wouldn’t seeing how a student learns in an online program be a more accurate picture of their abilities? And completing relevant learning activities would give students a taste of what’s to come, helping them make more informed decisions about how they want to further their education.

MIT’s policy, which could be the first step towards unseating a decades-old admissions policy in all areas, is a reminder that we are far from harnessing the full power of digital learning programs. Because the major shareholders–students, faculty, institutions, and education technology companies–are learning by doing, we can’t even foresee all of the possibilities.

If we’re open-minded rather than judgmental about innovations, if we’re willing to take some risks and even fail at points in the process without ditching the whole framework, we’ll make great strides in education.