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Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of MOOCs

As shared in my own posts, I am totally with many who see xMOOCs rich in content, information. Some mentioned that MOOCs are like e-textbook, others remarked that they are the best ever revolutionary or transformational “innovation” we have ever had. For me, I have participated in MOOCs since 2008, and have since then looked into c and x MOOCs and am interested in their development.

One of the beauties with MOOCs is the diversity of opinions, where people are encouraged to raise their points (or arguments), and followed by critiques (collective inquiry). It is not about challenging the authority, though sometimes that sounds antithetical to the authoritarian teaching approach.

As envisioned by most MOOCs (xMOOCs and cMOOCs), it is about democratization of Higher Education (HE) and that HE is a basic human rights. That’s what we all agreed. The challenge is: to what extent are we able to translate these in the MOOCs? What are the merits and demerits of MOOCs under an institutional framework? What are the opportunities and threats with MOOCs?

How could we further improve MOOCs? How to overcome those challenges (including both those views on the impacts of MOOCs – loss of jobs, pedagogical issues, marketization, privatization, monetization, openness, and issues like plagiarism, low completion rates, lack of opportunities of interaction and engagement with professors, trolling, assessment challenges (with auto grading & peer assessment) etc.)

What are the strengths, weaknesses (challenges and issues), opportunities, threats (SWOT) of MOOCs?

1. What are the strengths of MOOCs?

It is usual to have high praises on MOOCs, like this review of Coursera MOOC and this on what were learnt from teaching MOOC.  Major benefits of offering MOOCs include: education access, experimentation and branding extension.

2. What are those weaknesses (challenges and issue)s?

Whilst most universities are looking for best practice on online learning, what might have been missed is that the fusing of social network with the university course do pose lots of challenges and issues that most “positive evaluations on MOOCs have missed”.

Ignatia provides a summary of the findings from MOOCs, based on the full report.

Trolling and irrational behavior in MOOCs

The New Yorker magazine famously printed this caption in the early nineties to draw attention to the anonymity available on the Internet. Unfortunately, a small fraction of MOOC students take advantage of anonymity to engage in antisocial or antagonistic behavior on the forums, towards either their fellow students or the course staff. We found that these perpetrators were cowards hiding behind an anonymous throwaway email address. Up to a certain point you can instruct your community TAs to shut down destructive threads, but if the behavior persists, see if you can have the students expelled from the course. Don’t let their behavior get you down, and don’t let it sour the experience for the vast majority of students who are diligent and appreciative of your work!

It seems that such small fraction of MOOC students are hijacking the xMOOC, and behave in a rather irrational manner is the case in the MOOC.

Hasn’t this happened in cMOOC? Yes, that has happened in cMOOC.  Would this sort of behavior repeat in other MOOCs?  How have MOOC providers and professors managed those “misbehaved students” and conflicting situations?

Differences in opinions in MOOCs

In this harvardx-and-edx-online-learning-update, there were some interesting findings worthy of reflection.

Conflicts with institution mission and faculty’s autonomy and teaching

Clayton has provided an overview on some of the conflicts involved in the introduction of MOOCs into the institutions.  This was exacerbated in the two scenarios:

What should be the theory behind MOOCs?

As Clayton Christensen mentions here, most academics are looking for data for analysis before they would make recommendations for further action in the introduction of innovation.  The first cMOOCs were run based exactly on Theory (Connectivism as a new and emerging learning theory, as proposed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes).  The xMOOCs were again run based on the Theory of Instructivism where Mastery Learning and Video based learning (coupled with flipped classroom) would work

Here is how a cMOOC work.

3. What are the opportunities of MOOCs?

Opportunity 1

To shift the education and business model from the notion that a professor lectures students, to a more collaborative, interactive model where global network of practice and community of practice emerges.

Opportunity 2

To shift the pedagogy from teacher-centric design in an online education, to a cooperative and collaborative teacher-learners centric design, with an ultimate pedagogy to support human beings and a transformative pedagogy.

Opportunity 3

To innovate based on technology and media affordance – The use of different media also allows for more individualization and personalization of the learning, better suiting learners with different learning styles and needs.

Opportunity 4

To re-bundle the value propositions from non-credit to credit bearing courses, with degree granting from institutions.  This would also challenge institutions to re-think about their roles in the Higher Education ecology.

4. What are the threats of MOOCs?

Are MOOCs viewed as disruptive innovation to Higher Education?

Is MOOC a threat to quality education, especially at public universities? When MOOCs reach a critical mass, where students would accept and prefer to learn through the free open course, rather than going to pay for a course, then it is/could be.

How is quality defined? It is defined by users, students, not just by the education providers, MOOCs providers, employers alone. So, if you are to define quality education, we need to consider the different dimensions as “defined” and perceived by the “consumer”. That also makes MOOCs sound like disruptive innovation, as it could “easily” replace any courses by the super-rock-star professors who could afford to spend hundred hours in delivering their videos, and that they have established their reputation in the HE for decades. Would this be a competition between education chains, professors, etc.?

Business Model
“There is no standard business model for how MOOCs will generate revenue. Venture capital and philanthropy have funded platform providers such as Coursera and edX. Currently, institutions and MOOC platform providers each bear their own costs and split any future revenue.”

Unless a business model of MOOCs is fully developed with a demonstrated positive net gains in “profits” and revenues, MOOCs could still be viewed as an extension to the mainstream courses only.  Higher Education Institutions would still doubt about their sustainability in terms of cost effectiveness when running MOOCs and their impact on their long term business goals, and objectives and their growth with MOOCs.

What are your views on these?