Most Americans want more online learning, and don’t expect to learn as much

October 25, 2012 at 9:00 am 6 comments

This week’s Time magazine piece on MOOCs is very good. The author was fair and even-handed in identifying strengths and weaknesses both of the current models of higher-education and of MOOCs. I was surprised by the sidebar on the results of a survey by Time and the Carnegie Corporation.

They reported that 68% of the general population believe that “Much of the teaching on college campuses can be replaced by online classes.” (Only 22% of the senior college administrators surveyed agreed with that statement.). 52% of the general population agree that “Students will not learn as much in online courses as they will in traditional courses.” (45% of college leaders agreed.). So the majority believes that courses will go online, and students won’t learn as much. This sounds like evidence for the argument made a while back that quality isn’t really a critical variable in decision-making about higher education. Completion rates and cost are two of the most critical variables in the Time piece.

The article says the economic burden of higher education is so great now, something has to change.

I was optimistic after reading the Time coverage — MOOCs could lead to positive changes in all of higher education. If MOOC completion is going to be accredited, it will have to be tested. If face-to-face colleges are going to demonstrate that they have greater value, they will want to show that they lead to testable performance, at least as good as MOOCs. The demand for better tests might lead to education research to develop more and better assessment methods. Actually measuring learning in higher education classes could be a real step forward, in terms of providing motivation to improve learning against those assessments — for both MOOCs and for face-to-face classes.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Muvaffak Gozaydin  |  October 25, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Most of the information on TIME is wrong.
    EDX started as MITx in December 2011, First course started on 5th of March 2012
    Followers of Coursera is not 1,5 million that is number of registration even to courses which did not begin yet .

  • 2. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  October 25, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    I’m not convinced that more testing leads to more learning or better courses. There’s not much evidence for that in K–12 education, where lots of testing has become the norm.

    The big wins in college education come not from the massive courses (in-person or on-line) but from the boutique courses which are by their nature not easily scaled.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  October 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm

      I agree that more testing does not immediately lead to more learning or better courses. However, it has worked out that way for Physics education. The creation of the Force Concept Inventory gave them a way to measure learning, and then to develop new approaches to teaching (e.g., Peer Instruction) that improved performance against that measure. It’s not automatic, but having a yardstick helps in setting goals and measuring progress towards those goals.

  • 4. Bri Morrison  |  October 26, 2012 at 10:32 am

    So now the colleges will teach to the test??? I agree that there is a chance that inventing the yardstick will improve educational outcomes, however I also fear the downside that goes with that; witness the K-12 testing mentality and cheating scandals.

    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  October 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      Teaching to the test isn’t a bad thing, if it’s a good test. The FCI led to Peer Instruction and other learner engagement pedagogies (Hake). Yardsticks aren’t a bad thing in themselves. MPG standards in the US led to more efficient cars, and car crash testing led to safer cards. “A four minute mile” was an effective yardstick for Roger Bannister.

  • 6. Sona  |  November 22, 2012 at 11:15 am

    I am in grad school and MOOCs has been a way to supplement my learning. Here are my thoughts on how a grad student can go about using this format


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