Earlier this year, Dr. Joshua Kim (Director of Learning and Technology for the Master of Health Care Delivery Science program at Dartmouth College) wrote an article for Inside Higher Ed titled, “Why Every University Does Not Need A MOOC” in which he examined the question of whether or not all higher education institutions should develop MOOCs as part of their teaching and learning portfolio of offerings. The core point of his article is that institutions should not necessarily try to follow the MOOC model as developed by a handful of pioneers. This is a risky endeavor, he reasons, and the key to success is in looking at other models of educational program development. Specifically, Dr. Kim recommends that institutions exercise introspection and examine what unique program offerings they might bring to market in order to appeal to a highly diverse learning community.
The argument has some merit, and indeed we see examples of institutions creating programs that have a “twist” to attract students: Lone Star College’s partnership with the oil and gas industry and the Mississippi Corridor Consortium’s partnership with Toyota for an education-to-work program are just two examples. Certainly, the idea of finding opportunities to engage students in learning that leverages an institution’s own collective expertise and “DNA” is not a new idea… and it is not an idea mutually exclusive to MOOCs, to be offered up in their place. In fact, it isn’t difficult to imagine these innovative programs being offered, at least to some degree, in MOOC format. Where I think Dr. Kim’s argument fails is that he blurs the distinction between program viability and demand as opposed to engaging delivery mechanisms and opportunities. Ideally, institutions should be looking to combine both of these elements.
That is not to say that the use of MOOCs will guarantee any measure of success. This is hardly the case–given the current levels of student preparedness, the revenue models under which different institutions operate, and lack of experience that many (if not most) institutions have in implementing non-traditional modes of online education, developing MOOCs can drain an institution’s resources while driving no change in the status quo of enrollments, retention, and student success.
The question of whether or not to implement MOOCs is preceded by the more basic question: “Under what circumstances can MOOCs thrive at my institution?” This is much more difficult to answer. What are the programs to be considered at MOOC candidates? How do we assess students for enrollment? And perhaps the elephant in the room for many institutions, especially those that are tuition-driven: how do we sustain the model without negatively impacting our revenue? While I cannot offer comprehensive answers (that discussion is just beginning in higher education), I can see some potential pathways for exploration:
- We should be looking at MOOCs as a delivery option for large enrollment courses with longer refresh cycles. At least while an institution embarks on the MOOC path, the economy-of-scale issue is a top-of-mind consideration to be addressed. Building MOOCs that will “be around for a while” with less need for revision while help in budgeting, and attaching MOOCs to courses that already may have more faculty (and even instructional design) resources associated with them will be helpful as well.
- MOOCs should not necessarily replace traditional on-ground and online courses, but rather they should be offered as a supplemental environment. As an additional learning environment, the existing student support mechanisms can still be utilized, which might mitigate some of the concern over the participation of tech-novice students. And keeping MOOCs associated with course that are funded traditionally is one way of covering their development and maintenance costs.
- We should seriously consider collaborative efforts between institutions and team mentorship (not “teaching”!) from an instructor pool. Again, the sharing of resources is a consideration, but a big “win” with this approach is the potential for extending and enhancing the learning community. Ultimately, if we are able to provide more types of support for our students, we widen our pathways to improved student success.
Are MOOCs for everyone? Certainly not, at this point in time. However, taking a measured look at how MOOCs might be integrated into an institution’s existing model of instruction is a conversation that will be coming up more and more in higher education.