Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been a topic of debate for a number of years. Pundits have proclaimed they would be the end of higher education as we know it, while critics point to poor completion rates as proof that they simply don’t work.
What MOOCs have done is create a conversation about how we learn and teach, according to Joshua Kim, director of digital learning initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning and a contributor to Inside Higher Education.
“Every college and university is working to make sure that the classes offered on campus offer greater value than what can be had online and for free,” Kim wrote in a recent blog post. “Methods and practices around residential education are being re-examined and rethought. Learning is understood as a competitive institutional differentiator.”
At the same time, Kim has issues with the assumptions both experts and detractors make about open online education. The first is the idea that MOOCs are a substitute for traditional courses.
“Higher-order learning is an activity that cannot be scaled,” he wrote. “Foundational knowledge may be appropriate for a MOOC (or a textbook, or even a really well-designed educational video game), but advanced learning works best with an educator.”
Other things about MOOCs that Kim said are often misleading include the idea that MOOCs are the same as online education; that open online courses will lower the cost of education; that the work of traditional colleges and universities is being threatened; that the cost of producing MOOCs is prohibitive; that MOOCs remain a fad; and that they will not change higher ed.
“The bigger higher-ed story that nobody seems to be telling is just how much better colleges and universities are getting,” Kim wrote. “Where everyone is focused on climbing walls and lazy rivers, the real story is improved learning.”