ExtensionEngine Blog

MOOCs Are Not Dead — Reflections from Learning with MOOCs 2017

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ExtensionEngine was one of two sponsors of the Learning with MOOCs 2017 conference, held October 8–10, 2017 in Austin, TX. Furqan Nazeeri, Partner at ExtensionEngine, participated as a panel member in the session “What should drive the design of MOOCs? What is driving current trends?”, where he discussed how online learning has evolved to be more adaptive, customized, and engaging.

While the theme was “Developing and Advancing Careers with MOOCs,” the nearly 100 attendees, primarily from universities in the U.S. (as well as edX and Coursera), covered many topics. They shared notes about the wide range of uses of MOOCs, the ongoing research into learning at scale, and a belief in the utility and future of this form of online learning.

Presenters, panel members, and attendees-at-large discussed the many ways that they are integrating MOOCs into a broad range of educational situations. They described using MOOCs in skills training but also as a delivery mechanism for credit-bearing courses and certificates. They also described outcomes as wide ranging as recruiting more and better students, increasing revenue, and improving employee retention. Attendees bemoaned the hype that had swept the industry and celebrated the relative lack of attention that is currently on their work, all while worrying that leadership has lost sight of the benefits of MOOCs as part of a larger portfolio.

Another overriding theme was the vitality and range of all of the research being conducted by diverse groups into how MOOCs can be improved. Much of the work is especially about how to take advantage of the scale of the courses. Many researchers emphasized the importance of modularizing the learning so that it can be recombined and redeployed for different purposes. Others described different ways that students can somehow create social connections among smaller groups among the tens of thousands of a MOOCs participants.

A final theme that I want to highlight is that attendees were interested in different methods for providing and improving feedback among participants and/or groups of participants in a MOOC. The work of Scott Klemmer at the UCSD Design Lab seemed particularly promising as a way to provide useful critique at scale.

While the theme was related to advancing careers with MOOCs, many attendees had a deep, abiding belief that MOOCs, while they can’t and shouldn’t be used for everything (least of all the generalized replacement for a residential university), will be a useful part of the educational portfolio of many schools for years to come. The attendees noted that MOOCs are particularly effective as an education-based marketing tool. One attendee noted, “It’s a whole lot better, informative, and more authentic than a glossy brochure.” They can be useful for engaging with society at large rather than just alumni, current students, or the school’s local community—though they are also good at reaching those groups. As long as a school has a desire to reach outside of its own walls, its leadership should at least consider how a MOOC might be deployed as part of an overall strategy.


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