Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Are MOOCs the answer?

With the semester (almost) over it's the return of the crankypants reviewer (hmmm... maybe I should get that as a badge and use it for all of my article reviews ;-) ).  Anyway, my goal this month is to finish reading the edited collection titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future, which I started back in August of 2015 (or somewhere there about).  This time I am reviewing chapter 8, which is titled What is Best for the Learner?: Are MOOCs the Answer?  The abstract is as follows:

Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs are increasing in use by universities, corporations and other organizations. The quality of instruction and learning is an ongoing topic of debate as to whether MOOCs are effective for learning. What is best for the learner is determined by multiple factors. This chapter looks at what is best for the learner and whether MOOCs are the answer. The authors examine each of the factors that impact what is best for the learner. Each of the factors (accessibility, cost to the learner, quality of instructional design, learner performance, and acquiring on-line collaboration methods and resources) are described and are followed by a discussion of the issues, controversies and problems associated with each factor. This chapter takes up the discussion on the book section ‘RIA and education practice of MOOCs,' with the particular focus on the topic of ‘educational training design.'

I guess my first question to the question "are MOOCs the answer?" is what's the question? There is also a question on what's best for the learner which I find a little odd.  Learners are not one uniform mass.  While we are all unique in some way, there are some aspects that can be generalized in some cases.  Still, this doesn't mean that one can determine the best anything for all learners. This is what I found a little odd from the onset of this article.

In any case, the article looks at five areas, which are and issues and controversies with those areas. Those areas are:

  • Accessibility
  • Cost to the learner
  • Quality of instructional design
  • Learner performance
  • Acquiring online collaboration methods and applying resources currently used in today's workplace
I think each area really had its own set of issues. Overall there are things written in this article that really need citation.  Some broad generalizations are made that have no cited sources, some parts seem like they are written in a style appropriate for a popular magazine and not a research collection, and some statements that are completely wrong.  For instance the authors write the following
Given that, MOOCs are almost completely immune to rigorous investigations with regard to how they function as a means of facilitating learning because there is not pre-test or post-test.
This is wrong. Having pre- and post-tests does not mean that your investigation is rigorous and lack of pre- and post-testing does not mean that your investigation is not rigorous. It seems like there is a basic lack of understanding about research and how its done.  Either that...or they just subscribe only to quantitative and positivist views of research.  Either way, they are wrong ;-).

There are of course other things wrong with this article.  The accessibility category talks mostly about access to the course (free to access from anywhere) and not about real accessibility.  To be fair, they do speak a little of accessibility but it feels tacked on.  When they speak of instructional design they really are speaking about instructional approaches and not a lot about design, and they mention private MOOCs as an option - which aren't really MOOCs.

In the end, the authors write that:
Perhaps the best recommendation we can offer is for learners to select courses and learning experiences that meet their needs.


blog comments powered by Disqus