Gates funds remedial MOOCs

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) were designed for motivated, independent learners who don’t need college credits. Now the Gates Foundation is funding remedial MOOCs reports Inside Higher Ed. Grant applicants are beng told to focus on a “high-enrollment, low-success introductory level course that is a barrier to success for many students, particularly low-income, first-generation students.” Grants will go to proposals for MOOC study aids, course supplements and stand-alone, for-credit, all-online courses.

“This has the potential for raising the quality of instruction in developmental education, if used properly,” said Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education.

But Amy Slaton, a Drexel professor who specializes in workforce issues, thinks remedial students need more support than MOOCs provide. Gates is “buying into these very naïve ideas about how technology works in education.”

Only one in four students in remedial classes will eventually earn a degree from a community college or transfer to a four-year college, research has found.

Boylan said the Gates proposal was promising because it seeks to study how the courses work, with research components on what is effective for whom and under what circumstances. Those are questions “too few agencies have asked” about remediation more broadly, he said, even though more research is “desperately needed.”

Some colleges have replaced remedial classes with computer-based labs, especially in math. Typically, tutors or instructors are available to help students if they get stuck on a concept.