George Lucas Educational Foundation

MOOCs as Disruptive Innovation?

MOOCs as Disruptive Innovation?

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At the end of January, I wrote a blog about what we can learn from MOOCs. Even some of the major MOOC players admit there have been some problems, and they are now using the data to refine the MOOC experience. But I guess a better question is “What is the desired outcome?” I think this an area that is up in the air, and because the purpose of MOOCs seems to be vast and varied, it is difficult to measure. Hence, the ongoing debate of completion rates. Are completion rates a quality indicator of a MOOCs success? I think this is a challenging question. On the one hand, one could say, “Yes!” If students are not completing the course, then engagement is decreasing. On the other hand, one could say, “No!” Perhaps the point of MOOCs isn’t full completion, but anytime, anywhere access to material. I’ve heard many stories of people's experiences MOOCs. Some were content, often when there was true personalization and frequent human interaction. Those that did not enjoy the MOOC experience said they felt lost or were not able to get help and feedback. I think in order to alleviate this divide in the experience, we need to make clear exactly what a MOOC is intended to do and serve. The good news is that this disruption is helping us rethink what education could or might be. MOOCs alone may not be the answer, but perhaps they are helping to create education innovation. What do you think should be the desired outcome of MOOCs and how do we measure that?

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

That's a great question- but I wonder if it sets up a bit of a paradox. For me, the desired outcome of MOOCs is simply learning. Learning, however, is largely an internal, self-directed process and is only measurable via external systems like observations, tests, exhibitions, performances, etc. which aren't really feasible in the MOOC environment.

So I guess the only person who can measure it is the MOOC participant. If they say "yup, I learned stuff and it was worth trading my time for" then the desired outcome has been reached.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

I suspect the issue boils down to trust. Do we need to be able to trust a MOOC when it vouches that someone has acquired a particular learning and/or skill?

If the answer is yes, then completion matters. If the answer is no, then it doesn't.

Put another way...if the course I take is part of a certification program, then completion matters, but if it's just me noodling around an interest of mine and it won't affect anyone else, then there's no harm if I punch out early.

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

I like your point, Samer.

MOOCs are just one of the avenues that point to a problem we have in education with credentialing. While many jobs currently require a credential in order to get in on the ground floor, others, particularly in the tech industry, are way more interested in competency. Who cares where you went to school if you can teach yourself a new programming language when needed?

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