Thursday, July 5, 2012

How will MOOCs affect higher education?

Udacity believes that providing free education can empower people to change their lives for the better. By creating classes that not only provide content but also support a community of learning, students have the opportunity to learn anytime, anywhere. The discussion surrounding Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs) continues to build momentum. For some, the impact of MOOCs on traditional higher education is at the heart of the conversation.

When Udacity posted the article, Open Online Courses Are No Substitutes for Classroom Learning to our Facebook page we received upwards of 50 comments! Our fans had some really insightful things to add to this debate.

The article's author, Joshua Kim, Director of Learning and Technology for the Master of Health Care Delivery Science program at Dartmouth College, is skeptical. Kim identifies the biggest drawback of open online education as, "...the massively open online courses do not permit dialogue between faculty and students on an individual basis (too many students)."

On the other hand, Kim acknowledges that the benefits of the MOOC structure is that it gives, "...greater transparency, more investment, and more availability, [which] are always welcome development in higher education."

Our students on Facebook were quick to offer their own opinions:

"Open Online Courses can have more advantages than traditional online learning. One thing that it does that is very positive is put more responsibility on the students to take care of their education and search out things that can help them instead of being passively told what to do by their instructors. Also, I think it can really encourage collaboration and workplace skills that aren't taught that well in the traditional education system."

"In some ways online isn't as good; in other ways, it is superior. Old school is rightly worried. If free can provide 50% of the value for <1% of the cost, does it disrupt? Um, yes. The good news is that the expensive business models (schools) are finally facing disruptive innovation."

"Having access to message boards detailing problems with 40,000+ people answering is an extremely valuable resource. Additionally, the ability to re-watch lectures, pace yourself, and skim to parts you need is like having a lecture pre-recorded for you."

Others pointed out the setbacks that the current online learning models are facing:

"Well open online courses are great, but there is no proof that I have taken these courses (and that I didn't' cheat). Having exams at external centers would alleviate that problem. Teaching computer science online is easy, teaching physics would be harder (we consider performing actual experiments essential to being a physicist), teaching philosophy would also be quite impossible in that way."

And others provided some great perspective on the nature of changing higher education:

"Among designers there is the so called "T model" where you know something about a broad range of topics -- that is the top bar of the T -- and you have a very deep knowledge of one topic, which is the vertical part of the T. Udacity can provide that top bar. Hence, it is highly valuable for personal development in a way almost no official uni is anymore."

The next quote is interesting because the idea of transforming education for the benefit of the student is something that definitely gets overlooked in discussions about free education. Business models that do not requires students to pay promote education as a right rather than a privilege, a concept Udacity stands for.  It is also something that Michael Littman, Udacity's Algorithms instructor, mentions in What Michael Littman learned while teaching at Udacity.

"Education is begging for innovation and many traditional educators are unfortunately not embracing this emerging opportunity to SERVE their students better and are instead engaging in turf wars."

What do you think? Join the conversation on LinkedIn or Facebook.