I just attended an excellent webinar titled “Online Education: More than MOOCs.” The free webinar was presented by Inside Higher Ed editors Scott Jaschik and Doug Lederman who clearly demonstrated that they have a solid understanding of the history of online education, which goes beyond the recent hype about MOOCs. They do an excellent job of explaining how traditional online courses and MOOCs are not synonymous, and acknowledge that too many pundits and non-experts do a disservice by not differentiating between the two which also drives me crazy.
Doug and Scott also discussed many of the key issues colleges and universities are facing today as well as changing faculty roles in the digital age. Many of their comments were based on data collected from recent surveys, recent articles on the subject, as well as conversations they’ve had with faculty and administrators. I was also very impressed with their responses to some of the questions asked by the people attending the webinar.
You can download a booklet from Inside Higher Ed that includes both news articles and opinion essays on this topic and click here to view a link to the recording of this brief, but very informative webinar.
The results from Inside Higher Ed’s Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology are not that surprising for those of us who work in higher education. Although this survey is titled faculty attitudes about “technology,” the primary focus of this article is faculty attitudes about online courses. The majority of faculty members surveyed consider online courses to be lower quality than face-to-face courses. But of course, another result is that appreciation for the quality & effectiveness of online learning grows with instructors’ experiences with it. I think it would be very difficult to evaluate whether the quality of an online course is inferior to a traditional course if you have never taken or taught an online course.
As always, the comments on the article are just as interesting as the article itself with online learning enthusiasts arguing that online courses are as good or better than face-to-face courses, while the other side argues that online courses are inferior.
As an online learning proponent, I’m not going to try to convince anyone that online courses are any better or worse than face-to-face courses. But I am happy that the survey addresses the issue of quality and learning outcomes – these are important in all courses, regardless of the delivery mechanism. There are both excellent and “not so excellent” courses in both the online and face-to-face environment. Improving the quality of ALL courses should be the focus of these discussions instead of online courses vs traditional courses.
Below is a snippet from a comment by John Ebersole that I wanted to share here because I agree with him that we should not lump traditional for credit online courses into the same category as MOOCs.
“We do a dis-service to “traditional” online learning when we lump it together with MOOCs. We have had over 25 years of experience with the former and have consistently seen learning outcomes equal to or greater than those found from a classroom experience. MOOCs, on the other hand have yet to demonstrate ANY significant learning . Many have no assessments and those that do are from exams of dubious origin and conducted with little security. The online courses offered by over 70% of public and 60% of private institutions (remember there were nearly 7 million students taking at least one on line course in the fall semester of 2012) have high completion rates (over 80% at my institution), while MOOCS struggle to retain even 5%. We should not conflate the two.”
Steven Mintz, the executive director of the Institute for Transformational Learning, University of Texas System wrote a couple of very interesting articles in two major higher education publications last month. In an article in Inside Higher Education titled “Lifting All Boats, How MOOCs Can Bring Higher Education Together, he talks about how MOOCs may actually benefit higher education by providing opportunities to “rethink pedagogy and instructional design for a new century and a new generation of students.” This is exactly what traditional online education has been doing for the past several years. In a commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled, The Future is Now, 15 Innovations to Watch For, he shares his predictions for the future of higher education over the next 36 months. I agree with Mintz that some of the recent disruptions in higher education that many people are worried about may actually benefit higher education and keep the focus where it should be, on learners and learning. I’m especially interested in these 5 innovations:
- Innovation 2: Evidence-based pedagogy
- Innovation 4: Optimized class time
- Innovation 6: Fewer large lecture classes
- Innovation 7: New frontiers for e-learning
- Innovation 8: Personalized adaptive learning
Ron Legon, the executive director of Quality Matters, wonders why so little attention has been paid to the quality of MOOCs. He states that quality in online learning can be defined is the following ways:
- quality of design
- quality of instructional delivery
- quality of outcomes
In this IHE blog, MOOCs and the Quality Question, Legon explains the difference between MOOC 1.0 and MOOC 2.0. He believes that MOOCs miss the mark in general and take no responsibility for learning results and unlike traditional online courses, students have little if any contact with their instructors in MOOCs. I think he makes some excellent points and agree that the quality question should be an important part of the conversation.
WCET is introducing a new series for its members that includes:
- Talking Points
- Lessons Learned
They are “crowd-sourcing” the draft of their first Talking Point which is titled, “A Simple Guide to Navigating the MOOC Muddle.” According to WCET, this guide can be a useful resource “for when your administrators, deans, faculty, board members ask “Should our institution offer a MOOC?” And I agree – the document includes all of the important questions to consider when thinking about joining the MOOC craze. The talking points document includes questions like:
- Why does the institution want to offer a MOOC?
- Will these MOOCs be delivered out of academic departments or another division of the institution?
- How will success and failure of a MOOC be measured?
- How are we going to pay for it (Course design, course delivery, technical support, marketing)?
- How will we validate learning?
- And many other thoughtful questions to consider when deciding whether or not to offer a MOOC…
Kudos for WCET for putting together this great resource! I look forward to when the final version will be available (very soon I hope).