By Fred Dylla, AIP Executive Director and CEO
The first set of large-scale experiments with massively online open courses (MOOCs) is being evaluated by the academic community. These experiments have ranged from a plethora of single offerings at individual institutions to several well-publicized consortia, such as those founded by MIT and Harvard (edX), Stanford (Coursera), and the European Union (OpenupEd). Udacity is another popular third-party platform with an international reach, to nearly 200 countries. This mode of free, or nearly free coursework has also been promoted by a number of civic-minded philanthropists such as Michael Saylor, Laurene Powell Jobs, and Bill and Melinda Gates.
At first consideration it seems like a wonderful opportunity to be able to take MIT’s first-year electrical engineering course or a Stanford course on political science at your leisure at no cost, except for the internet connection and receiving screen.
I had the pleasure of attending a strategy and management forum on the future of engineering education, sponsored by ASME and the NSF. The second plenary session was devoted entirely to the topic of MOOCs, and the speakers shared some findings from an evaluation of the first wave of MOOC experiments, and the potential impact on higher education. Among the data considered was the number of MOOC enrollments compared to the number of completed courses. Registrants for well-known MOOC programs, such as those offered by MIT and Stanford, for example, sometimes exceeded 150,000 per course, whereas the number of students who completed the course requirements was typically less than 5%. On one hand, the low percentage of completion could indicate that success is questionable. However, in terms of reaching individuals, nearly 5% means nearly 7500—via a typical face-to-face course, this could take decades.
[ Full article available at American Institute of Physics: http://www.aip.org/commentary/moocs-and-future-education ]