Is quality control good enough for MOOCs? Part 1

Both Tony Bates and George Siemens posted about the need of quality control on MOOCs.  There were many other postings that critiqued on such MOOCs drama.

Tony says:

  1. Where is the quality control? Surely Coursera should accept some responsibility for this. They are getting paid by the institutions to host these courses. Shouldn’t they at least be asking some questions about what tools people are planning to use, and whether or not they will work with very large numbers? Are they doing due diligence before accepting and advertising their MOOCs? Apparently not. Nor did Georgia Institute of Technology. What has this done to its reputation?
  2. Are questions being asked about the qualifications or experience of the people who are offering MOOCs? Just a brief glance at this particular course suggests that the instructor had little experience herself in planning and managing online courses. Georgia Institute of Technology is not at the top of my list of institutions with experience in online learning. But then, anyone can teach an online course about online learning, can’t they?

Martin Weller summarises it wonderfully here:

This means that they’re expensive to create, need to appeal to a broad demographic, and have high production values. If this is their direction then there are several inevitable outcomes:

  • They become unsustainable – a good MOOC is so expensive to put on that it simply isn’t worth doing. You’re providing it for free after all.
  • Only elite institutions offer them – given the expense, only those institutions who have the money, or the skills to produce broadcast quality content will provide them.
  • They are conservative – as Georgia Tech found, it’s better not to try anything risky or innovative, because the cost of failure is too great.
  • MOOC failure will be costly – if you fail publicly and damage your own, and your institution’s reputation, don’t expect them to give you promotion. So why risk it?

It is interesting to see MOOCs from different lights and perspectives, with this article here: mooc model challenging traditional education:

MOOCs, as currently designed, address two of the three challenges facing postsecondary education: access and cost. MOOC-based degree programs would not only democratize education, but their scalability would help end the unsustainable trajectory of tuition. They are an effective remedy to the “cost disease” plaguing higher education12 and a viable solution to the problem of providing global access to educational credentials.

Would MOOCs help end the unsustainable trajectory of tuition?  May be, from the learners and students’ point of view.

For the institutions, they would more likely to be hit hard, even for the most prestigious institutions, like Stanford, MIT, and most higher education institutions, I suppose. Why? This lower cost solutions would bring the whole of Higher Education to an “affordable” education, but also lower the overall value of a degree as offered in the Higher Education Institutions.

Demand and supply in economics tells us that scarcity in supply would likely be valued more than the abundant demand. Take for instance the current market of ubiquitous MOOCs, would people be more choosy in their MOOCs selection?  Higher Education institutions would need to rethink about their strategic positioning in this changing landscape of Higher Education, not just to survive, but to thrive, in view of the disruption and competition of the MOOCs.

Henry Ford once said: “You could have any cars you like, so far if it is black.”  Now it sounds like: “You could have any degrees or online education you like, so far if it is MOOCs.”

Is quality control the solution?  May be, but I don”t think quality control is good enough.  Quality control only controls the outputs, inspecting the faulty products and services, most likely by sample checking, or at most quality auditing.  But MOOCs would hardly survive with quality audits, unfortunately, because most of the xMOOCs might not have passed even the first audit check – high drop-outs, and failure to conform with the specifications and requirements by the institutions – in participation, engagement, and meeting the quality requirements of support and the academic rigor of a “degree”.  I don’t see MOOCs would survive in a stringent, traditional model of higher education, though this may be overly pessimistic judgment.  Who would risk having 10% of their students passing the course?

Isn’t it too harsh on xMOOCs?  Yes, it could be overly demanding, when failures of MOOCs might seriously impact on the reputation of the institutions, the professors and supporting staff, and students.

Nevertheless, all those who passed the MOOCs would be very thankful of the MOOC providers, for the free education they have received.

My background is in quality management.  Historically, we have quality control, then quality assurance, and then total quality management.  Total quality management (TQM) requires a totally new approach in “managing quality”.  So, would TQM be required in MOOCs?

I will continue with this reflection in Part 2.