Monday, August 13, 2012

What in the world is a MOOC and what does it mean to higher education?

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course."A massive open online course (MOOC) is a category of online course where the participants are distributed and course materials also are dispersed across the web. MOOCs are a very recent variant of online education, which itself is a form of distance education." Wikipedia . MOOC's are free courses offered by some of the best schools in the world and by the best professors. If you have an internet connection, you can take a course. The technology used is available at reasonable prices to any college, not just the elite. Some are already using tools like learning management systems and class video technology with their own students, in regular courses. This content is most often strongly protected behind a userid and password.

This has been a topic of interest to those who think about the future of education and teaching, and the growth of advanced learning around the world. Stanford, Princeton, MIT, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania are some of the early players. They are providing free on-line courses to the world. Coursera, MITx and a few other organizations are the delivery systems.

You can Google and get lots of information about MOOC's. I visited the Coursera site last night and found that they offer 117 courses in 16 content areas, for free. This is a limited number of courses and it does not look like the courses lead towards a degree -- yet, but what an opportunity. When you look at this list of courses and the schools that are offering them you have to come back to other questions that are abuzz in higherd education these days:

Does a degree mean anything anymore?
What are college students learning in college?
Is a college degree worth all of that money?
Is the four year residential college seeing its last days?
Will this greatly empower those living in remote areas of the world and what does that mean?
Will the 3rd world leap over the west?
Will this find its way to K-12 and make home schooling the preferred method for many more families? (See the Kahn Academy, if you think this is far off.)
Will college students assemble a group of MOOC classes, a few regular on-line classes, and in person classes and earn a degree?

I might revisit these questions over the next few months, but more importantly I think all colleges and universities need to consider them themselves. We are always developing or refining strategic plans, planning for regional accreditation, or trying to think of how our campus can be "distinctive". With all due respect to my colleagues, most have their head in the sand over this topic. Many consider it to be just another game for the rich schools. I am pleased that the term "blended courses" has almost become mainstream on many campuses, but this is just the start. The cost of education and the market place will decide whether the product we have been providing for decades is still going to hold up. I am a great advocate of the traditonal baccalaureate experience, but its day may have come and gone. I urge every college president to learn what MOOC is and to start a discussion on their campus.

Will a degree from Western Governors University, the University of Phoenix, or the University of Maryland University College be as valuable as those from other schools? They already are!

BTW, last night I signed up for a course entitled "Information Security and Risk Management in Context" offered by the University of Washington.

No comments: