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?

Transformation of Higher Education – Why is it so hard?

Is transformation of Higher Education possible?  My reflections:

Relating to the ideas on transformation of  Higher Education with improved teaching and education reform as discussed in this article, I reckon this is similar to the adoption of a connectivist approach in Higher Education.  There are still long roads to cross, due to the enculturated values of teaching and research that have been embraced by both professors and administrators for decades.  Besides there are demands of stability under an education system in Higher Education, it would be difficult to transform Higher Education without changing the pedagogy.  Transformation of Higher Education through improved teaching requires a review of the pedagogy adopted in HE.  I would reflect on this important aspect in another post relating to MOOCs.

Carl envisions and demands better teaching, with push backs from other academics due to challenge of traditional values and cultures that have been in the education system for decades.  I think many professors do know what could be done to improve & innovate teaching.  Higher Education values research over teaching, and that wouldn’t be changing as research “creates” & generate new knowledge, whilst teaching would at best transmit knowledge, as generally perceived by professors and students.

For those very smart & talented students, wouldn’t they just need minimum guidance and would then excel as Carl has cited in the article, under an apprenticeship model, with graduates?  For under-graduate students, only the top and talented students would learn most effectively with such model, as they are self-motivated and regulated.

For most other students, there are still needs for close support and mentoring, that are obviously absent if the only way to learn is the 50 min mass lecture method.

If I were to ask Carl: Is your Nobel Prize based on research or teaching?  If the answer is teaching, then would professors be considering how to improve teaching in a deeper way?

Besides, all PhD and Doctorate programs are still focusing on research as a principal means to gauge and evaluate a persons’ achievement in scholastic and research in the field.  How would we expect  professors to spend time in “teaching” their students when such PhD students are already good enough to learn with technology and network affordance?

But would this be an over-simplification of what teaching of under-graduate programs are all about?  Teaching concepts or correcting misunderstood or incorrect concepts in science is important.  However, would the use of MC and T/F or short answer questions be good enough to inculcate the values and applications of science in real life?

Some students would still prefer lecture method, and so many professors would continue to do so (and I think I would practice it too), as any negative comments or feedback from students would only lead to professors adopting more teacher-centered approach, when they are reminded that these are what the students want – to know the answers to the examination, tests, quizzes and assignments straight away, instead of spending time exploring themselves.

Some students are uncomfortable with this approach—even if it’s more effective. “I remember getting an evaluation from one
[UCSD] student who had just finished my course,” says Simon, a pioneer in the use of peer instruction within her field. “I loved
it. It read, ‘I just wish she’d have lectured. Instead, I had to learn the material myself.’ ” See above article.

Numerous researches have hinted that students want simple and effective means of learning, not complicated or complex tasks which are both time-consuming and difficult to perform.  That is the reality and challenge that most educators and professors are facing Higher Education.  Isn’t it?

The old motto: “Tell them what you want to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you have told them” have now been “transformed” into various formats of video lectures (both mass video lectures and short video lectures with quizzes – like those on Youtube), teaching posts or artifacts, or a combination of face-to-face lectures with online tutorials/quizzes – MC, T/F, and short answer questions, or peer assessments, or eportfolios.

On Higher Education

Bonnie posted an interesting post relating to education – participate or perish.  She highlights the discourse around education is broken.

Refer to FB posting.

Who decide the future of higher education? Who are the “customers” of education? In an education business, are customers always “right”? When students are treated as customers, what would happen to professors, institutions, and education? Who should be on the spotlight? Without customers, what would happen to the education business?

It may be time for me to retreat for a deep meditation, at this time of turbulence. Sounds like a tectonic shift happening in Higher Education resulting from MOOC movement. We are in such a crossroad of “participate or perish” that we don’t quite know where we are heading. Do you know?

Bonnie Stewart i agree that education as a system is less about learning than it is about management of the ceremonial societal functions of credentialing, which is a business. but it isn’t a simple divide: institutional models had a particular way of weaving the two together, and that’s currently under assault on a number of fronts. making credentialing purely a business with a profit motive will effectively leave learning out entirely, which is why i’m pushing for something else that harnesses the org structure remaining in institutions but uses the capacities of networks too.

My comment:

Yes, so true, and we have to live with it, if that is the way education is structured. Have we tried to adapt, shape and change in a way that truly transforms education, as a community, with our transformative learning in action, especially with the early cMOOCs? It has ignited the passion of learning, for many, I think. Who want to see education left broken? May be there is a highway, though it is much more difficult for people to chart it out, as the money comes into the way. From a historical perspective, education has always been inter-mingled with business for profits, technology and culture. I do hope there are more visionaries who would take up the “lead” in truly transforming education, and not being lost in the craving of profits with greed. Learners and learning must come first, in building a better and stronger nation, and world.

Yes education = credentialism especially when getting HE is used as a gateway towards getting a good job, or obtaining a set of skills. There are some learners, parents in the west who might not see the linkage between getting a degree and a good job, as the modelling from famous people like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs revealed the exact opposite to those traditional belief.

If you get a higher degree like a Master in Education, does it mean that you could teach better? There are challenges when many famous people commented on education system – that teaching might be done better by those who might be “less qualified” and have not got a teacher qualification. Why? They don’t have the baggage that most teachers have to bear – formal lesson plans, structured linear curriculum design, individualised mentoring and coaching plan etc. Compare that to the video lectures, where some are talking heads, whilst others are short video clips with a few minutes of “rush-hours” of teaching, a summary of key points, followed with a quiz. Isn’t it deep learning? It doesn’t require much thoughts, except a good memory to keep answering the questions, and remember the right answers. How do they ensure good mastery learning? Is it even close? Only rote learning is promoted.

Take a look at the eastern education system, where examinations are used to evaluate students’ “rote learning”. I could recite a whole paragraph coming from a text, or following the steps in getting the right answers to a Math problem. Am I an A+ student? In this case, I could get my certificate, and a degree, but then what follows? The real world business doesn’t ask me to do what I have remembered, it doesn’t even know if I know how to apply those skills, until I have demonstrated that at work. So, why are so many students in the US falling out of school? Why are so many students in China so excited in getting into Higher Education, and to Universities? With university degree, those Chinese students would have hopes to get a better future. Does it happen in the US? This would take another blog post and discussion to share further. Here are some videos relating the Chinese Examination and Education System.