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.

On MOOC – its impact on professors and higher education

I am intrigued with the post here on Stanford’s Online Strategy.

But the advent of a new generation of integrated, interactive online learning platforms could also help resolve the biggest crisis facing higher education–the cost of a college degree–possibly by reducing the number of faculty needed. “Higher education is ridiculously expensive,” says Prober, “and rising faster than any other sector of the economy–including healthcare. The most expensive cost in higher education is the professoriate. Having the rich faculties we have in thousands of colleges across the United States is probably not sustainable. So being able to bend that curve becomes very important, and this is one methodology for doing that. Once you’ve got the videos, you don’t have to create them every year. You have to tweak them and update, but that’s relatively easy.”

If the professors constitute the most expensive cost in higher education, what would be the most effective way of cutting cost?  Naturally, this means that having rich faculties of professors would not be sustainable.  Would this be the case in other higher institutions of developed countries too?

If you were the professors in Higher Education Institutions, what do you think would be the impact of MOOCs on your work?

In this post p3

According to Bernd Girod, a professor of electrical engineering and the new senior associate dean for the School of Engineering, Stanford sees MOOCs primarily “as a showcase and a laboratory for online learning methods,” adding that “they will never replace the incredibly vibrant campus experience Stanford provides.”

May be people haven’t yet sense the real and significant impact of MOOC coming into its full swing on learning experience as yet.   I think MOOC would likely replace a lot of campus experience,  especially when more and more MOOCs are introduced, leading to a shift towards online interactive learning in various disciplines.

The online interactive model has transformed the course from a class that most students rated negatively to one that most actually like. The majority of students now avoid the old-style classroom lectures–only 20 to 30 percent attend–but virtually all beginning biochemistry students are attending the optional interactive sessions.

Does it mean that old style classroom lectures would soon become history?  This seems to be a trend across higher education institutions.  Sebastian Thrun also mentioned about the significant number of his AI students who preferred to attend the online session to the class lectures.

Do you think this would replace a lot of face-to-face classroom lectures soon?  Why/Why not?

Is MOOC an Opportunistic Education?

Is MOOC becoming an opportunistic education?  Is the learning experience opening windows of opportunities for conversation, sharing and discourse for global educators, researchers, and learners in a wider context and a global community?

Photo credit: Elearning Google image


Here are four opportunities and challenges that I have identified relating to MOOC as a game changer in Higher Education.  There are assumptions behind each of the opportunities, including :

the revolutionary opportunities available in MOOC’s. But, reflecting the magazine’s focus, its cover story is less interested in how the online courses transform learning for students than how they offer investment opportunities for venture capitalists. Higher education of the MOOC variety is touted as the Next Big Profitable Thing, what Forbes calls “The $1-Trillion Opportunity.”

Opportunity 1

(a) 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.

Here in a post relating to MOOCs, Don says:

 From my perspective, we should eliminate all lectures as a method of instruction. Universities must shift their business model from the centuries-old notion that a professor lectures students, to a more collaborative, interactive model.

Any subject where students need to absorb fact-based material – that is, where there is a right or wrong answer – should be taught using computer-based learning. Instead of being the “sage on the stage,” teachers should be the co-pilot for students as they explore and collaborate online to acquire knowledge. Without changing the model of pedagogy, the physical campus will not survive.

One can easily see a day when students treat all the universities as one big à-la-carte menu that can lead to something we could call a “MOOC degree.” Take some law courses at Harvard, economic courses at McGill, some engineering courses at MIT, and round out the degree with courses from Queen’s, Yale and the London School of Economics. The result will be students acquiring a better education by shopping around then they could have acquired at just the one institution. And it won’t take long before employers recognize this.

Should we eliminate all lectures as a model of instruction?  I have shared my views on lectures here and here. There may be certain needs for lectures, for certain categories of learners, under certain context.  It could however be contested as the most effective way of “transmission of knowledge”, given the whole range of choices from the education media such as TED or Education web sites.  Besides, why can’t we re-use and re-mix the educational resources (especially the media, artifacts) that could more effectively be used as a model of instruction?

Opportunity 2

(b) 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.

Transformative pedagogy (from 3 types of education (McGregor, 2008)):

  • Place the student at the centre of learning
  • Help learners find their own inner voice and power, therefore they feel empowered to effect social change, bring about justice, peace, freedom, and other components of human condition
  • Teachers have to respect and have compassion for co-learners
  • All ways of knowing are interconnected and enriched by each other
  • The desired outcome is to change – to transfer learning into social action outside the classroom

The epistemology: where student needs to create knowledge.

We are now at a stage where MOOC providers are exploring and experimenting with different pedagogies over a range of MOOCs.

There are many good questions raised here on whether MOOC will work for freshman composition:

Even without outside intrusions, we struggle with new challenges, some anticipated, some not. How can we keep students engaged, especially when we do not have traditional contact with them? How can we recreate and encourage extra-classroom support mechanisms like study groups, office hours, or tutoring?  How do we protect students’ privacy and intellectual property without the firewalls of closed learning platforms? How do we address plagiarism? And, of course, the biggest question of all: How do we evaluate writing assignments in a course with potentially thousands of enrolled students? Because this MOOC is being designed for an open audience and will not award course credit, it is impossible to know who might enroll, or how many.

There are no easy answers to these questions, in particular the engagement of students, the openness issues and assessment challenges often associated with open-closed learning platforms.

Opportunity 3

(c) 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.

Tony addresses this well as he says:

Online learning can incorporate a range of different media: text, graphics, audio, video, animation, simulations. We need to understand better their affordances, and use them differentially so as to develop deeper knowledge, and a wider range of learning outcomes and skills.

The use of different media also allows for more individualization and personalization of the learning, better suiting learners with different learning styles and needs.

Another post here

A report on the study, “Technological Change and Professional Control in the Professoriate,” includes interviews with more than 40 professors at three universities. It suggests that professors often use such technologies for logistical purposes rather than to improve learning.

This further reinforces the need to gain a deeper insights as to how technology could be used to improve learning, and to provide continuous support and development for educators and professors in teaching and learning under a changing technological learning environment.

Opportunity 4

(d) 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:

In this “How about the institutions goals and vision?”

He sees three roles in the current MOOC ecosystem: course provider, testing service, and credit granter. Any institution looking to experiment with MOOCs needs to decide which role it wants to play, he said, and then determine its goals for the first year and its intentions for growth five years out.

He acknowledges that setting five-year goals might be difficult, given the rapid evolution of MOOCs over the past year. Still, he said, institutions must try to think that far ahead, beyond any immediate benefits.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed

Here in a paper on MOOCs:

  • A turning point will occur in the higher education model when a MOOC-based program of study leads to a degree from an accredited institution — a trend that has already begun to develop.
  • Addressing the quality of the learning experience that MOOCs provide is therefore of paramount importance to their credibility and acceptance.
  • MOOCs represent a postindustrial model of teaching and learning that has the potential to undermine and replace the business model of institutions that depend on recruiting and retaining students for location-bound, proprietary forms of campus-based learning.

There are further opportunities in building education models where quality of education and learning experience are co-constructed and co-created by multiple networks of institutions and communities and networks, with a consortium of MOOCs like edX, Udacity, Coursera or the UK Open Learn initiative.

In summary, MOOC could be an opportunistic education model and platform where the four opportunities are identified – through the shifting into new and emergent education and business model, pedagogy, innovation in media and technology, and the re-bundling of value propositions.  Would this be the visions of the future of education?

What do you envision?

Future of Higher Education Part 2

Sounds like a good time to start looking at this important topic of the Future of Higher Education.

There have been lots of discussions going on, see here.

There are also low cost, online for credit courses introduced, which might soon become a common practice in lots of higher education institutions.

SAN JOSE — San Jose State University, in the heart of the Silicon Valley, is also at the heart of a big American education experiment: low-cost online classes offered for credit.

If it works, high school and college students nationwide could by this summer have access to cheap, entry-level or remedial college courses.

What would the future of education look like in 2020?



Culture and changes in this digital era

What is culture?

This is a big question and we have seen many cultures come and go, in organisation, networks, communities and society.

Take for instance climate change debate.  We once have an interest in understanding climate change and how and what we could do to change the world, in saving the world.

What emerged out of this climate change are solutions based on sustainable work practices.

We are now implementing these Sustainability in Higher Education.  But what happens to Higher Education?

Having a culture is great, but should culture be able to embrace change?  A change that supports sustainability.

It takes me awhile to re-conceptualise what educational changes there are, and what MOOC is trying to achieve.

I re-examine the tenets of wicked problems:
Wicked problems, according to Horst and Webber, have ten characteristics:[1]

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem. 
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false but good-or-bad.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every implemented solution to a wicked problem has consequences. 
  6. Wicked problems do not have a well-described set of potential solutions.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered a symptom of another problem.  
  9. The causes of a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways.
  10. The planner (designer) has no right to be wrong. 

What kind of problems are wicked problems?  Here are some examples:

  1. Locating a new freeway or homeless shelter.
  2. Optimizing all the features on a new model car.
  3. Deciding on the best way to re-engineer a business process.

Wicked problems arise when an organization must deal with something new, with change, and when multiple stakeholders have different ideas about how the change should take place.

So, if the problem is deciding on the best way to re-engineer higher education, surely this is a WICKED PROBLEM that we are all facing.  This post summarises some of the problems of higher education well – like rising tuition fees and the perception of inferiority of online education as compared to face to face education in the past.  You might come up with a symptom of another problem behind higher education.

I hope this is my last post on Higher Education in 2012.

Let’s bring hope to 2013, and resolve all those wicked problems.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Postscript: A good reference on wicked problems