Purpose and Quality of MOOCs

Thanks to Grainne Conole for the post on MOOCs and a New Classification of MOOCs, where she has critiqued thoroughly on quality assurance of MOOCs from a course and instructional design perspective, suggesting an alternative pedagogical framework on both c and xMOOCs.

In this post, I would explore the purpose and quality of MOOCs, relating to some of the quality aspects as discussed by Grainne.

What is the purpose of creating MOOCs?

In this corner: MOOC enthusiasts, envisioning how these large, online courses will increase access to higher education, reduce costs, and reinvigorate teaching and learning.  In the other corner: MOOC critics, anticipating how MOOCs will eliminate meaningful interaction between faculty and students, reduce the quality of learning, and decimate the professorship. http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/stratedgy/both-sides#ixzz2UAdhXKe2

If the purpose of introducing MOOCs is to increase access to higher education, reduce costs and reinvigorate teaching and learning, how would such purpose relate to the mission and vision of Higher Education Institutions?

The mission and vision of institution could be viewed as I shared:

The 3 Ms of MOOCs are Mission, MOOCs and Money.

The fundamental questions boards should be asking include:

  • Why are we online? Is the movement to or expansion of online education consistent with the institutional mission? Does and will it serve and advance the institutional mission? Or is the key issue in the discussion about online education—including any conversations about MOOCs—money?
  • How do we assess quality—that of our own online offerings and those of others, including the MOOCs?
  • What will it take to achieve our objectives in terms of online learning—including human and financial capital, content expertise, the political will to change, and many other concerns?

How is quality defined in MOOCs?

Quality in online education, in particular MOOCs might be defined differently from those quality in classroom education, with a face-to-face teaching environment. What is quality of MOOC from the perspective of educators, learners, and employers?

Quality is defined as conformance to requirements (Philip B. Crosby) (slide on Cost of Quality as Driver of Quality Improvement).  Have the cost of conformance and non-conformance been examined and analysed in MOOCs?  What are the “true cost” of MOOCs in the quality equation?

The questions relating to quality in a MOOC are:

1. Whose requirements are most important to be met?  If MOOCs are for the learners, then the conformance to requirements would likely be decided by the learners.  This is quite challenging, in case of institutions, where quality is defined in terms of the institutional requirements.  From a historical perspective, there are always differing requirements from institutions, employers, educators and learners, and so what is best in quality is seldom agreed upon, especially under an open education and learning environment.

2. How is quality determined in MOOCs? What may be viewed as quality may need to be re-examined in light of changing circumstances, as those requirements, purpose (if quality is defined also as fitness of purpose) are changing rapidly in a complex educational landscape.

As mentioned above, the definition of quality is conformance to requirements, under P. Crosby. The concept of Quality Assurance (QA) is to assure quality through quality prevention, with the goal of zero defects in the system (P. Crosby’s quality concepts).  Quality assurance (QA) has been a subject based heavily on quality policy, quality system and procedures, and instructions in formal education institution. The cost of quality relates to the cost of non-conformance (and conformance) in a quality system.  Whilst all these principles of quality are based on an industrial and business model, they had been transferred to education when institutions started to adopt a strategic management approach towards business education, where quality and values become the business driver and hallmark towards excellence in Higher Education.

The quality audit is part of the QA procedure designed to provide an opportunity to enhance the quality of the system through self, second and third party audits and reviews.  However, such quality audits are normally applicable to formal institution education system, and are seldom used for informal learning or non-formal networks, due to the complexity of open social media and the associated technology used.

QA as applied to MOOCs would then relate to the quality design, delivery and audit based on an institutional model education.  Is QA good enough to ensure and assure quality in education and learning?

Starting in late 1980s, there had been a movement from Quality Assurance towards Total Quality Management in education and Higher Education institutions.

The adoption of Total Quality Management (TQM) has been widely used in industry in the late 70s to 90s in industry, and was considered by Higher Education Institutions back in the 1980s to 2000s.  TQM has since been considered and adopted in some of the Higher Education Institutions as both a philosophy and strategic framework to support the overall vision and mission of the institutions, in the deployment of education policies and procedures, and the involvement of everyone (including administrators, professors, instructional designers, support staff, and even customers (students)) in creating and building quality in the system, thus adding value to the customers and stakeholders.

The challenge with TQM in Higher Education however is apparent (especially with MOOCs) when quality is always defined differently by different customers (both internal and external customers), and the standards or requirements that are stipulated by the education provider and authority.  Such quality becomes nuanced and complicated, when customers’ needs and expectations are changing in a complex education and learning environment such as MOOCs.  Indeed, the original quality definition of: Fitness for purpose could be challenging to both the education providers, stakeholders (Venture Capitalists), education authority, educators (professors, course designers), and learners, as the purpose of designing or delivery of the course could be defined and perceived differently for each of the MOOCs (including c and xMOOCs).

Quality is defined quite differently when it is viewed under the network model, with openness, autonomy, diversity and interactivity being the hallmarks of sustainable networked learning based MOOCs.  Recent researches have highlighted the tensions that are inherent when social networks are fused into a formal education system, as the concept of quality would be dependent on the degree of openness and autonomy one would perceive.

In business settings, quality could be achieved through quality planning, control and improvement.  In the MOOCs, quality is achieved through the design planning, course delivery and continuous improvement.

Summary

If we are to apply such business model in Higher Education, the purpose behind the introduction of MOOCs would then be to add value to the education, in particular the learning for the students, community, in order to maximize the social capital, while driving down the total costs of education.  This is a bold, ambitious, risky and ground breaking “innovation” and transformation that no education authority in the history of mankind had tried in breaking through.

We are still yet to agree on what quality is, when it comes to MOOCs (x and c MOOCs), as quality could be defined differently under a formal institutional framework (xMOOC) as compared to an open networked education framework (cMOOC), and that different stakeholders (education authority, administrators, professors, educators, learners, and parents etc.) could also perceive quality based on their learning and experience.

Recommendation for future research

Further research is required to explore how quality, quality assurance and total quality management is achieved when social networks and the technology mediation is fused into formal education system with MOOCs and the sort of pedagogy that would foster the learning in a wide spectrum of MOOCs (i.e. ranging from c and x MOOCs).

Postscript: See this book chapter by Grainne Conole.

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