Where do MOOCs fit in? by Dean Cathy Sandeen

What is a MOOC? It’s a Massive Open Online Course and it’s all the rage in postsecondary education.

Basically, a MOOC is a self-paced online university-level course that is open to anyone and that is provided over the internet at no charge. Recently elite universities began offering MOOCs, including MIT and Harvard (through their collaboration called edX), and Stanford (through its partnership s with two different Silicon Valley start-ups, Coursera and Udacity). MOOCs span many disciplines, though engineering and technology courses dominate.

The ability to enroll and participate in these courses is free. However, documenting participation and successful completion is not free. MOOCs are well-suited to fields where specialized technical expertise is needed, where the student is highly motivated, and where documentation is less important. For example, there is currently a shortage of software developers and programmers. An existing software programmer might be able to gain additional expertise and skills to qualify for a particular position by completing a MOOC.

MOOCs also are well-suited for individuals who want to learn for the sake of learning and who do not care about any form of documentation or credential.

But what about the majority of individuals seeking postsecondary education for career purposes? Some form of documentation or proof that learning has occurred is required in this context. So the question becomes: Where do MOOCs fit into the postsecondary education landscape?

The following is an adaptation of the graphic from my previous post:

Besides providing a new option for non-credit lifelong learning, MOOCs may interact with other components of the landscape at a number of entry points.

For clarity, granting credit generally involves having course content and instructors reviewed by university faculty who are experts in the discipline; integrating valid outcome measures of student learning in the course (usually graded projects and examinations); and having the university or other entity record the student’s performance in the course on an official transcript.

Credit for MOOCs may be granted toward certificate programs through continuing education providers. Credit for MOOCs may be granted via prior learning assessment. Some universities have begun to offer a for-credit option (for a fee) for their own MOOCs. (In this case, the course may be massive and online, but it would not be “open,” i.e., “free.” A MOC, not a MOOC.)

The postsecondary landscape continues to evolve. MOOCs are part of that landscape and they support access and opportunity and multiple paths of entry for students pursuing advanced education. Right now, not surprisingly, the path for MOOCs seems to rest in the more non-traditional components of the system. It will be interesting to see how this develops.



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