MOOCs no longer massive, still attract millions

By Dhawal Shah

The first ever MOOC I took had 160,000 people signed up for it.

The forums were buzzing with activity. New posts were being added every few minutes. If I had any question at all, it had already been asked and answered by someone else.

But recently I have noticed forum activity and interactions in MOOCs have declined drastically.

This is despite the MOOC user base doubling in 2015. The total number of students who signed up for at least one course had crossed 35 million — up from an estimated 16–18 million in 2014 — according to data collected Class Central, where I work.

Change of pace

The first MOOCs were essentially college courses put online — they were approximately 10 weeks long and had weekly or bi-weekly assignment deadlines with a final exam. Like a college course, they followed a semester pattern and were offered once or twice a year.

But as course providers learned more about student behavior in online courses, MOOCs have evolved to meet the needs of the student. These needs include shorter courses with soft deadlines (i.e making it possible to submit assignments anytime before the end of the course, rather than having weekly hard deadlines).

Kadenze, a MOOC platform optimized for arts education, made such a switch recently. After the switch, the platform got more submissions in one month than in the whole of 2015 (Kadenze launched in mid June 2015), according to CEO Ajay Kapur.

But the biggest change to MOOCs in recent times has been that they have become more available. In other words, the number of courses that users can start immediately has risen significantly, as you can see in the graph below. (The graph shows the number of courses that a learner could start in September of each year. I chose September because it’s usually the biggest month for MOOCs.)

[ Full article available at VentureBeat: ]

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Posted by on September 5, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



Humans, the Latest MOOC Feature

By Carl Straumsheim

One of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s most popular massive open online courses is adding a feature not seen in any of its other humanities MOOCs: instructors grading essays.

Learners in Introduction to Philosophy: God, Knowledge and Consciousness, which started on Monday, now have the option to have their essays graded and reviewed by real, flesh-and-blood philosophers — in this first case, one of MIT’s own graduate students. The goal, according to MIT, is twofold: to give learners from all over the world an introduction to basic philosophical topics and — for those who pay $300 for an identity-verified certificate — an opportunity to improve their written argumentation skills and to experiment with new employment opportunities for philosophers.

The philosophy course, now in its third iteration, mirrors the development of MOOCs in general. When it first launched, it featured lecture videos and multiple-choice questions to test learners’ reading comprehension. The second time around, it evolved by adding peer grading, where each learner evaluates a handful of papers written by course mates.

Teaching the MOOC has been a “marvelous experience,” said Caspar Hare, the professor of philosophy who created it. Nearly 90,000 learners signed up during the first two runs. The discussion forums buzzed with debates about religion and free will. Yet Hare said he was left “feeling you could do more” — referring to the lack of writing assignments.

“It’s really central to the way you come to understand the field,” Hare said. “I just don’t think you can get rid of that.”

Essay grading in MOOCs has been a tricky issue for institutions to solve. MOOCs can enroll tens of thousands of learners, which means assigning even a single essay will lead to more content than an instructor and a small army of teaching assistants can read, let alone give meaningful feedback on. EdX, the MOOC platform MIT helped found, has piloted automated essay grading, but the technology is not there yet (not to mention that some instructors, including Hare, are highly skeptical of it).

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on September 2, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



MOOCs Are Dead. Long Live Online Higher Education.

By Phil Hill

Last week marked five years since Stanford University introduced to the world the classes that would soon spark a frenzy over massive open online courses.

On August 16, 2011, Stanford unveiled three courses, taught by Sebastian Thrun, Andrew Ng, and Jennifer Widom, all computer scientists at the university. Their MOOCs borrowed key designs from Daphne Koller, another Stanford professor who led much of that institution’s early efforts in blended learning. By the following spring, Mr. Thrun had founded Udacity, Mr. Ng and Ms. Koller had founded Coursera, and MIT and Harvard University had founded edX, seeking to use MOOCs to transform higher education.

The age of the commercially oriented MOOCs, as driven by their most prominent supporters, had begun.

Fast forward to the present, and we have now witnessed the end of an era. While Mr. Ng, Ms. Koller, and Mr. Thrun remain on the boards of their respective companies, the biggest advocates of commercial MOOCs have moved on.

Mr. Ng left Coursera in 2014 for Baidu, focusing on deep learning research. Mr. Thrun stepped down as chief executive of Udacity in April of this year to reduce his day-to-day responsibilities. He is now president of Kitty Hawk, a company focused on the development of flying cars. And Ms. Koller recently left Coursera to become chief computing officer at Calico, a company that researches human aging.

These days, no one considers MOOCs to be the future of education or a threat to the modern university, as had been so frequently claimed when the courses were first attracting international media attention. Udacity has shifted its focus to job-skills training, and Coursera and edX are still searching for ways to bring in long-lasting revenue.

So will these changes in corporate vision and leadership change the long-term trajectory of MOOCs?

[ Full article (subscription needed) available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on August 26, 2016 in Op-Ed



The Philippines And Other Developing Countries Ramp Up Online Education Culture

By Jason Schmidt

Akshay Kulkarni wasn’t winning any awards as an undergraduate engineering student at Chaitanya Bharathi Institute of Technology (CBIT) in Hyderabad, India. All he had to show for his effort was a mediocre grade point average and growing skepticism focused on how his college degree would eventually help his future aspirations.

“Out of 400,000 seats available for engineers at colleges in my state,” says Kulkarni, “there were only 200,000 people even trying to get into those seats.” Although it was extremely easy to get an opportunity to earn an engineering degree in India, Kulkarni knew that landing a good engineering job was actually increasingly difficult.

Kulkarni understood that there had to be a way to differentiate himself from the thousands of other minnows floundering in the job market. Frustrated by the overall climate and structure of his undergraduate experience, he sought out a different avenue toward his future career: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

“I ended up taking something like 15 MOOC courses while completing my engineering degree,” says Kulkarni, noting that he focused almost exclusively on the MOOC educational alternative instead of attempting to get As in his in-person courses at CBIT.

The big moment for Kulkarni, who now works as a software engineer at Microsoft, came when he realized his path less traveled actually worked. “My MOOC experiences made a big impact in my interview with Microsoft. I think my online courses and certificates helped to compensate for my low grade point average in engineering school. The Microsoft interviewer asked me, ‘Do you know anything about cloud computing?’ and I was like ‘I just TA’ed for a MOOC cloud computing course at Berkeley.’ That was the last cloud computing question I got asked.”

And Kulkarni isn’t alone.

[ Full article available at Forbes: ]

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Posted by on August 25, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



MOOCs and Beyond

By Dan Butin

By now we know that MOOCs are not the final answer. Higher education will not be saved (or destroyed) by these massive open online courses that splashed into everyone’s consciousness about three years ago. Yes, they provide some fascinating opportunities for expanding access to higher education, for helping us to rethink how teaching and learning works, and for revitalizing the debate about the role of faculty and the power (or futility) of going to college. But most pundits and educators have moved on to the next shiny new fad.

This is a mistake.

For underneath and behind the scenes, much progress continues to be made.* In fact, I would suggest that it is only now – after three frustrating years where expectations were raised way too high and subsequently plummeted way too low – are we starting to see the real opportunities.

This can be seen in the recent announcement by MIT that one of its popular MOOCs (on philosophy) will introduce “instructor grading.” As the press release proclaims, “having a trained philosopher [will] provide individual feedback [which] is crucial to knowing how much of the material was truly understood. That engagement is an essential part of the pedagogical experience — just not one learners from Boston to Bangladesh can typically experience together.”

This is a fascinating development. By now it is crystal clear that MOOCs cannot be compared to traditional courses. Yes, they may replace and/or supplement existing courses, but they are fundamentally different. And that difference is exactly the kind of interactivity – of engagement, feedback, grading – that is at the heart of the give and take of deep learning in higher education. Without such engagement, MOOCs might as well be (and have been compared to) the correspondence courses of the 1800s or your local public radio or TV station. It’s just information transfer; not true knowledge development.

Until now the MOOC world has created multiple workarounds attempting to get around this more or less impassable obstacle of one of the foundational aspects of a course. The simplest solution, of course, was just to pretend that such feedback and engagement were not truly relevant to something being a course. But such a perspective, and pundit-fueled euphoria, was short-lived. More plausible solutions have included everything from automated assessment to competency-based education to differing permutations of peer feedback. But each of these solutions has always been dogged (not fairly in some cases) by the seeming lack of quality of such engagement.

This is where MIT’s announcement enters the picture. Their solution – of using “professional philosophers” – solves the really important problem of the seeming lack of quality. This solution appears simple and obvious, but until recently it did not seem plausible to do so on the massive scale of MOOCs, not least because of the costs involved. So what MIT has nicely done is connect this solution to their certificate program – which will cost $300 – such that students can, according to their website, “verify your achievement and increase your job prospects.”

So let’s do the math.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on August 22, 2016 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed



Why Today’s MOOCs Are Not Innovative


At the Campus Technology conference in Boston, Stephen Downes explained the difference between innovation and transformation.

By David Weldon

For years, the higher education sector has been talking about the need to innovate. Or has it?

Are the various calls for new methods of delivering educational content truly advocating reform; or are they just new ways of approaching old topics?

That was the question posed by Stephen Downes, program leader for learning and performance support systems for the National Research Council of Canada, at last week’s Campus Technology conference in Boston.

As a keynoter for the three-day conference, Downes was tasked with challenging the audience to rethink what it means to be truly innovative in the field of education. The topic was not accidental: Downes immediately followed the presentation of the 2016 Campus Technology Innovators Awards.

While there were plenty of examples of innovation on hand in the awards portion of the session, much of what is passing for innovation in education today is not really that, Downes said. And in the industry overall, is it innovation we are achieving — or change?

“Change is done to you,” Downes stressed. “Innovation you do.”

Downes is no stranger to dramatic change in education. In 2008 he co-created the first massive open online course in the world, setting off a revolution in online education.

But that sort of thing isn’t what will transform education, Downes said. MOOCs are delivery methods – not changes in curriculum. If we want to change education, we have to change how we think about teaching and content.

Downes didn’t offer a blueprint for how to do that, but challenged the audience to think about transformation in what we teach, how we teach it and how we personalize the experience.

[ Full article available at Campus Technology: ]

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Posted by on August 9, 2016 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed



DeMillo on MOOCs and College Affordability


Technology has the potential to solve the affordability and access problem in higher education, according to the author of Revolution in Higher Education.

By David Weldon

As Richard DeMillo sees it, technology has the potential to make a college education more affordable and more accessible than ever before. The author and director of Georgia Tech‘s Center for 21st Century Universities spends a lot of time thinking about the past, the present, and especially the future of education, and shared his vision with attendees of the Campus Technology 2016 this week in Boston.

In many ways, higher education is at a crossroads, DeMillo explained.

“We’ve gotten to this state by choosing the most expensive – and least effective – way to run our universities,” DeMillo said. “The cost of tuition is rising at four times the cost of inflation. And I don’t think that will change anytime soon.”

In order to be sustainable, universities must find new ways to deliver education, he said. “One way to think about it – you’ve got this fight between a method of teaching that is thousands of years old, and something that is very different.” In particular, he believes massive open online courses will be a key part of the transformation.

MOOCs are certainly not new; a good number of colleges and universities offer online courses to the masses now. But what DeMillo envisions is the broader use of MOOCs to enroll more full time students than was previously possible – for entire degree programs.

Georgia Tech is doing just that. The college first began offering MOOCs in 2011 and has steadily increased its investment in the program since. Last year, the school put its most difficult degree program – the master’s degree in computer science – online, at a cost to the student of $6,700.

[ Full article available at Campus Technology: ]

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Posted by on August 4, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



Higher Ed: The Next Generation?

By Akiba Covitz

Times have changed since we began our multi-author blog, Higher Ed Beta, in December 2013. After a spring-summer hiatus, we’ve decided to embark on a reboot and a re-title, graduating from beta to gamma. The first three pieces, one authored by each of us, reflect on where we’ve been, what we’ve been up to, and where we hope to go with the blog, and more generally, with our own journeys in the higher ed landscape. – Steve, Michael, & Akiba 

Now that the breathlessness/euphoria/panic of the early MOOC days is well behind us, let’s use this shared space to figure out what our “beta” will actually look like. And by us, I mean those in higher education and the growing number of not-for-profits, for-profits, and foundations engaged in the space. Yes, it is a far more crowded space than it was a few years ago — and a space that has always been a reluctant stage sharer.

What’s the new normal, now that it’s clear that the mass die-off of colleges that many predicted is not taking place? (at least not yet) Belts are very much tightened (for most), classrooms are certainly changing, and the walls dividing our campuses from the world are lowering, but the song remains pretty much the same: educating students, conducting research, and spreading knowledge.

That said, the modes of delivery are being tweaked and tested. The use of data and analytics is on the rise in a place where the ineffable has often been enough if not the end. Vocational and skills-based training is also no longer the work of other institutions, but of all institutions. MOOCs are still in the mix, but schools of all kinds are finding their niches with certificates, new consortia, expanded “adult ed” offerings in person and online, etc. It could be that the new normal is that there no longer is a normal and that business as usual is morphing into normal business (with the kinds of ebbs and flows that corporate HQs have been more concerned with than ivory towers). The two worlds will not become one, but, as I have written before when this blog first started, higher ed will reach and must reach higher heights as more of that business-oriented but still humanistic ethos is allowed to guide our decisions.

With all of that in mind, we will use this space to get beyond the flame-throwing, Molotov-cocktail infused revolutionary hype of three or four years ago to a more measured, departmental barbecue, nice-micro-brew-lager-sipping evolutionary stance.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on August 1, 2016 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed



MOOCs ahead


Harvard gathering to review how online learning has worked best, and how to improve it

By Clea Simon

MOOCs (massive open online courses) have sparked explosive growth in both education and opportunity. Consider edX. Since this joint Harvard and MIT online platform launched in 2012, it has attracted more than 27 million course enrollments representing more than 8 million learners, uniting students all over the world with teachers and course material through lectures, interactive forums, problem sets, videos, and more.

What many of those students may not realize is that the learning goes both ways. Each time a student clicks a link or logs into an online conversation, he or she leaves a digital trail. And that information is vital to expanding and improving the future of learning.

“There’s a tremendous demand for learning from people around the world,” said Peter K. Bol, vice provost for advances in learning (VPAL) and the Charles H. Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. He pointed out that 70 percent of edX registrants already have bachelors’ degrees. “They’re doing this because they want to learn,” he said. “And with large amounts of data available, we can actually figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”

The proper, careful, and organized use of that information will be the topic of an expansive workshop and conference on Friday. This first Harvard-MIT data workflow event for edX institutions will introduce participating institutions to the edX infrastructure and allow attendees to share their perspectives on the need for analytics and reporting at their home institutions. Among other schools, Arizona State University, Boston University, Colgate University, Hamilton College, Rice University, Wellesley College, and Microsoft Corp. have made plans to attend.

The focus of the daylong event, said Dustin Tingley, faculty director of VPAL and professor of government, will be on “learning from the students how they’re using the platform, and learning how we can design a better educational experience for those students.”

[ Full article available at Harvard Gazette: ]

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Posted by on July 28, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News



3 Ways to Use MOOCs to Advance Your Career


By Walter Frick

The vast majority of people who sign up for a MOOC—a massive open online course—never complete it. More than 50% consume less than half of the course’s content. This is wrongly viewed as evidence that MOOCs don’t work, that people are dropping off and not getting value. The assumption behind that conclusion is that you have to complete a whole, semester-long course to get value from online education. As a MOOC addict, I can tell you: that’s not true. Instead, I’ve found there are at least three good ways to learn from MOOCs, depending on your goals and the time you plan to spend.

In some cases, it makes sense to go for a certificate, which means completing all the coursework and usually costs money. For courses on Coursera, edX, or Udacity, getting a certificate typically requires several hours of work per week, for several weeks or even months. In the end, you get to add a line to your resume certifying that you completed the course.

But that’s not the only way to use MOOCs. Another option is to audit the course, watching all the videos but not necessarily completing all the assignments. The downside is you don’t get a certificate, and in some cases you don’t have full access to quizzes or other helpful materials. The upside is you have less pressure to get work done, and can often learn at your own pace. In many cases this option is also available for free.

Finally, in some cases you can get what you need just by sampling a MOOC, watching a video here or there to get the specific knowledge that you need. For example, say you wanted to do some regression modeling in Excel. Other resources may exist to learn about regression, but the instruction in MOOCs is often of higher quality. Instead of watching a full course, you might find a single lesson within a broader statistics course and watch just that lesson. Many of the platforms will let you do this sampling for free, though others, like, run on a subscription basis.

[ Full article available at Harvard Business Review: ]

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Posted by on July 26, 2016 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News