MOOCs: Anything New to Report?

In an April 2015 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Casey Fabris, breaks down the latest report regarding MOOCs. (For more information on MOOCs, Edvance360’s MOOC360 network, how MOOCs can benefit Edvance360 clients in particular, and how one organization achieves extremely high completion rates as compared to the myriad of other MOOC offerings by using Edvance360 social learning tools, visit our blog.)

The report seeks to answer the question: “Where is research on massive open online courses headed?” A good question, considering MOOCs might very well be one of the largest educational experiments in history, drawing in millions of students worldwide and growing.

Casey Fabris reports:

“The report is the work of the MOOC Research Initiative, funded with more than $800,000 in grant support by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The group put out a call for research submissions and used much of the grant money to fund 28 of them, which were then analyzed for the report.”

“When MOOCs emerged a few years ago, many in the academic world were sent into a frenzy. Pundits made sweeping statements about the courses, saying that they were the future of education or that colleges would become obsolete, said George Siemens, an author of the report who is also credited with helping to create what we now know as a MOOC.”

Which reminds me of the days when the same happened on both sides of the online learning debate when online learning was in its dubious infancy. Some on the pro-side made similar sweeping statements. Others made sweeping statements that online learning was inferior and would die a quick death. Ten years later, it seems to be here to stay.

“It’s almost like we went through this sort of shameful period where we forgot that we were researchers and we forgot that we were scientists and instead we were just making decisions and proclamations that weren’t at all scientific,” said Mr. Siemens, an academic-technology expert at the University of Texas at Arlington.”

“Hype and rhetoric, not research, were the driving forces behind MOOCs, he argued. When they came onto the scene, MOOCs were not analyzed in a scientific way, and if they had been, it would have been easy to see what might actually happen and to conclude that some of the early predictions were off base, Mr. Siemens said.”

“The goal of the MOOC Research Initiative was to take a step back and get a better understanding of MOOC research and literature. Though the public’s interest in MOOCs has dwindled, academic literature on the subject is on the rise. The researchers examined who was writing about MOOCs, what fields they represented, what type of research has been done, and the various themes in the research that has emerged, Mr. Siemens said.

I’m not sure what is meant by “public” here, nor where he’s getting the research behind the dwindling interest, but perhaps the better word here would be “leveling off” or “getting to real numbers” since the majority of those who signed up for a MOOC never completed them. With time, just like online learning, we believe the numbers will trend up again, but this time at a realistic not frenzied pace.

“Five key research themes were identified in the report: student engagement and learning success, MOOC design and curriculum, self-regulated learning and social learning, social-network analysis and networked learning, and motivation, attitude, and success criteria.”

“The report names student engagement as a prominent theme. Many students enrolled in MOOCs are nontraditional, so making sure that they are engaged and able to succeed in such a course is even more important. Figuring out how to maintain students’ interest during an online course when “a distraction is literally just a click away” is another important element, Mr. Siemens said.”

“Mr. Siemens said he hopes the report will help colleges to make smart decisions, based on research and evidence, about their digital campuses.”

So, basically, schools will have to find ever-evolving ways to engage and keep the attention of the students whether the student is sitting in class sleeping, taking an LMS-based online course, or a student in a MOOC. Nope. Not much new here after all.

To learn how Edvance360 LMS is currently being used by The Catholic Distance Learning Network, a department of the National Catholic Education Association, click here. Readers will learn how the social learning and collaboration tools benefit MOOCs – just like they benefit all other forms of learning – resulting in an average completion rate of 26%. Which is about 20% higher than the average MOOC not using Edvance360.

To try a MOOC out on our smaller MOOC network (we like to call them SMOOCs for fun), click here.

Note: The findings of the MOOC Research Initiative are just one section of a larger report called “Preparing for the Digital University: A Review of the History and Current State of Distance, Blended, and Online Learning,” which covers numerous aspects of the digital campus.