While there has certainly been rapid growth in education technology the last several years, few new developments have had such an immediate and global impact as the MOOC. When these free Massive Open Online Courses launched in 2012, they were called “the single biggest change in education since the printing press” (Rosen, 2012). MOOCs were greeted with nearly unanimous praise by both the education press and the public and, what some viewed as simply a new technology product roll-out, quickly evolved into a “revolution that has higher education gasping,” (Pappano, 2012).
As background, the first MOOC known to have been offered in the United States was a course entitled “Online Learning Today and Tomorrow,” at The University of Illinois Springfield in 2011. The MOOC course attracted 2,500 students – a very high enrollment for such a new program at the time (Sandeen, 2013). Just two years later, however, millions are participating in MOOC courses all over the world.
The three largest MOOC platforms – Coursera, Udacity and edX – all launched in the summer of 2012. Coursera and Udacity were created by two Stanford University professors and edX was launched by a MIT professor in partnership with Harvard (Sandeen, 2013). Among these three major MOOC platforms, Coursera is the largest with over 4 million enrolled students (Anders, 2013). Coursera employs a decentralized model and partners with large established universities in the United States and around the world who are responsible for providing content, curriculum and faculty for a wide variety of course offerings (Sandeen, 2013).
While MOOC courses tend to focus on fairly traditional academic content including course offerings in history, math and science, the technology they employ is anything but conventional. I am actually currently enrolled in a MOOC course on the history of China and have been very impressed with the technology utilized online. The course utilizes engaging video, music, interactive maps and a variety of other applications to both educate and entertain MOOC students.
MOOC courses work hard to maintain student interest. Since these offerings are free, content developers recognize that students don’t always have a vested interest in completing a course. In fact, while millions of students are enrolling in MOOC courses, a large number never actually complete a full course as the vast majority of MOOC participants do not enroll with the intention of applying their learning experience toward the completion of an academic degree.
Currently most academic institutions that sponsor MOOCs do not grant academic credit for such coursework. But that may be changing, which has some leaders in higher education quite concerned. Last May, the American Council on Education was awarded a grant in the amount of $895,484 from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to “support building the bridge between informal MOOC learning and college credit by testing the viability of MOOCs as a direct-to-student use case” (“Gates Foundation,” 2012). The Council agreed to apply its respected course review and credit recommendation service to the MOOC environment and completed a pilot review of five courses on the Coursera platform. Following the review, all five courses were recommended for some form of academic credit” (Sandeen, 2013).
In addition to the efforts by the Council, many other institutions are currently examining the issue of credits and measurement. According to Masterson (2013), San Jose State University is partnering with MOOC providers to offer for-credit MOOCs to their students. Empire State College is working with foundations to establish and test MOOC assessments. And a bill in California could create a list of approved MOOCs for basic college courses that public colleges might be required to accept for credit.
Such efforts are receiving increased attention now as government leaders and citizens voice concern about the escalating cost of a quality college education. As Coursera states directly on their website “Many students face enormous financial obstacles in pursuit of their degrees. We want to help more students enter college with credit already accrued and exit college on time, on budget and with a degree in hand” (Coursera, 2013).
While it is difficult to argue with such a worthy mission, there are many in higher education that say further study of MOOCs and their long term impact is warranted (Rivard, 2013). Faculty groups are worried that MOOCs will threaten their intellectual property rights and, potentially, their livelihood. They also fear that the loss of traditional face-to-face education will negatively impact student learning. Many administrators worry about the financial impact of granting credit to courses taken for free – and some partner institutions have threatened to walk away from existing MOOC agreements “because of worries that corporations – and not universities – will end up controlling the future of higher education” (Rivard, 2013).
This debate is far from over, and, as the largest MOOC provider, Coursera, will help lead the ongoing conversation on the future role of MOOCs in higher education. They are most certainly well prepared to do so. Just as their enrollment surpassed 4 million students earlier this year, Coursera announced that they had raised $43 million in new venture capital, which tripled the amount of cash available for growth. They are currently exploring a potential public stock offering, as well (Anders, 2013).
Rosen, R. (2012). The Single Biggest Change In Education Since The Printing Press. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/05/the-single-biggest-change-in-education-since-the-printing-press/256655/
Pappano, L. (2012, November 2). The Year of the MOOC. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/massive-open-online-courses-are-multiplying-at-a-rapid-pace.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Sandeen, C. (2013). Assessment’s Place in the New MOOC World. Research & Practice In Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.rpajournal.com/dev/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/SF1.pdf
Anders, G. (2013). Coursera Hits 4 Million Students and Triples Its Funding. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/georgeanders/2013/07/10/coursera-hits-4-million-students-and-triples-its-funding/
Gates Foundation Grant Release. (2012, November). Retrieved from http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database/Grants/2012/11/OPP1066452
Masterson, K. (2013, May 1). Giving MOOCs Some Credit. The Presidency – The American Council On Education Magazine For Higher Education Leaders. Retrieved from http://www.acenet.edu/the-presidency/columns-and-features/Pages/Giving-MOOCs-Some-Credit.aspx
Coursera Blog Post (February 7, 2013). Retrieved from http://blog.coursera.org/post/42486198362/five-courses-receive-college-credit-recommendations
Rivard, R. (2013). Beyond the MOOC Hype. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/07/09/higher-ed-leaders-urge-slow-down-mooc-train#ixzz2jXo539q0