The other day, through some source I came across this "4 downsides of MOOCs" from LearnDash. I should have known better than to read a vendor's blog, but then again sometimes they surprise me. Anyway, the blog post seemed like link-bait because the downsides of MOOCs do not really seem that thought out. They are more reactionary than a deep pondering if the medium. So, here are my 2c on the issues brought forth:
1. Way to big
The main thesis of this brief argument (and it is brief) is that because there are too many people enrolled in the course it's hard to have intimate learning moments, access to the professor is limited, and there is too much of a chance of homogeneity of thought, so you don't learn to expand your worldview.
That said, just because MOOCs have many participants in them it does not mean that you can't find a working group, a smaller cadre of students who would like to meet more regularly, in person or through something like a hangout, to discuss and expand their understanding. Then, those learnings can be fed forward to the larger class. You don't need to interact with everyone in the course, and you can have close learning experiences. I am only a sample size of one, but I've had some memorable experiences in MOOC learning (cMOOCs to be specific). These are people that I still follow on twitter, and learn from even though the MOOC has ended a long time ago. As far as xMOOCs go, I think there is still room for automation improvement, where systems could be built to suggest to learners other fellow learners that they can buddy up with to study together.
As far as the access to the professor goes, this seems very xMOOC focused. If you look at traditional MOOCs (cMOOCs), and not the current crop of xMOOCs like edx, coursera and udacity, you will see that the pedagogy is one of distributed learning, and distributed experts. There is no one talking head. Sure, each week will have some expert leading it, but amongst the learners you have more knowledgeable peers that can help scaffold each other's learning endeavors. It's not a sage-on-the-stage model, thus you can expand your current thinking, if you want to of course. Even in a traditional course no one can make you change if you don't want to.
2. Lack of follow through
Here the author's basic thesis is that since the course has a large enrollment, the people who need the most attention aren't getting it, and thus are unsuccessful learners. The author quotes the same tired song "only 5% completion rate"...
What's lost in this whole "free education for all" song that the xMOOC providers are chanting is that there are certain underlying assumptions about the ability of learners to learn on their own and self-organized groups. This is a real pre-requisite for learning in a MOOC (x or c), and obviously the MOOC isn't geared toward those who aren't autodidacts. I am not sure if there is a plan to help prepare those who aren't prepared to be autodidacts, but as it stands, we should just admit that that MOOC are free education for all, with a few asterisks after that statement. Like it or not, MOOCs aren't catering to everyone.
As far as completion rates go, I've written or spoken about about this ad nauseum. The core of my argument is that completion rates in MOOCs don't matter because we cannot compare them to traditional classes. MOOCs have a lot of people that sign up just to have a look, but never both unregistering because there is no cost associated with the course, so who care if you are registered? This lack of cost indulges our digital packrat. MOOC critics see these packrats as "dropouts" or "non-completers" when they are not. It's like the unemployment statistics: they don't cover everyone who is eligible to work, but only those looking for jobs. Just because you sign up for a MOOC does not mean you want to "complete" it (whatever "complete" might mean for the designers).
3. Online Learning isn't for everyone
This is a pretty silly argument. Flute or Trombone Classes aren't for me but I can't say that this is a downside of music education! Sure, not everyone has the internet (or wants to have the internet), but MOOCs, or traditional online courses for that matter, aren't the only venues for education. If they were, this argument could potentially hold water. As it stands the argument does not. Since the argument is weak, the author seems to want to point out issues of plagiarism in MOOCs. Well, all students will try to figure out what they can get away with. For some it's doing the bare minimum to get a C, and others it's figuring out how to get a better grade with less work, and plagiarism might come into play. I don't condone plagiarism, but I do question the need for summative assessment of MOOCs.
Certificates of completion mean almost nothing since there is no guarantor in the background backing up the validity of these certificates. I hold on to my digital badges and certificates of completion for MOOCs because they are an indication of my having attended a MOOC. What I learned in the MOOC is seen every day through my actions, because I infuse that knowledge and know-how in my day to day work. Even if the certificate was worth something, if I could not apply what I learned, who would care that I have a certificate? Once certificates mean something, we can then tackle the issue of plagiarism more tactically.
4. Quality Concerns
The author seems uncomfortable with the variety that exists in MOOCs today. Honestly, I've been to campus courses where I would question their quality, the same is true traditional online education. It just so happens that these two are the dominant modes of course delivery so no one challenges their quality that often.
Some standardization is a good thing, but don't forget, MOOCs are not fully hashed out yet. MOOCs are experimental and it's important to approach them as an experiment. This is a learning experience for both the learner, as well as the instructors and the design team behind MOOCs, be they cMOOCs or xMOOCs. I find it odd that the author mentions SCORM as a "quality standard" because SCORM is just a way to share learning objects between systems. A well behaved SCORM module can have some pretty awful course material and pedagogy behind it. Just because a SCORM module is well behaved it doesn't mean that it's something of quality.
Finally, it seems like the author of this post seems to focus only on xMOOCs. It doesn't surprise me that a superficial critique of MOOCs will give someone these flawed critiques of MOOCs, but I think that if someone really wants to critique MOOCs they ought to be a little better informed (especially when they represent a product).