Are MOOCs Working for Us?

17 Nov

By Kristen Eshleman

This post is the first in a four-part series on MOOC research at Davidson College. We begin with the rationale for our research design and will follow with posts about our planning process, implementation and results.

This past spring I had the privilege of talking with Fiona Hollands, Associate Director and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She and Devayani Tirthali published a cost-benefit study of MOOC experiments that is a must-read for college administrators overseeing existing or future MOOC initiatives. Two leading goals for the 29 institutions interviewed include expanding access to higher education and improving economics through lowered costs or increased revenues. The Columbia team’s research suggests, however, that the likelihood MOOCs will achieve either of these goals is unclear.

In contrast, improving educational outcomes, fostering innovation and conducting learning research are the least cited reasons for creating MOOCs. I believe these lesser goals may in fact prove to be the areas where we see the greatest benefits on our campuses. The first two are anchored by the third—research will help us understand how we can improve educational outcomes and advance innovation through iteration.

To date, MOOC research has focused largely on the quantitative ‘big data’ generated within the online platform. Course designs reflect a desire to study learning through the easy analysis of individual clickstreams and assessments. While these designs offer insights into the ways MOOCs can scale content delivery and individual assessment, they do not accurately reflect how knowledge is created in the digital age.

We know, for example, that digital environments are comprised of networks of connections—connections between data and connections between individuals and ideas. George Siemens’ theory on connectivism describes digital learning as a similarly networked process. Knowledge is less about mastery of content and more about wayfinding—navigating, connecting and synthesizing rapidly changing nodes of information. In this setting, learning is inherently social. We know from experience that communal learning is also a valuable part of residential education.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on November 17, 2014 in MOOCs in the News


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