MOOCs — massive open online courses — work only for the well-educated, many believe. But a new study finds that MOOC participants learned as much or more than traditional students in a MIT physics class. There was no evidence that less-capable students learned less, wrote researchers in a paper published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.
. . . researchers from MIT, Harvard and Tsinghua University, completed a before-and-after test on students taking “Mechanics ReView,” an introductory mechanics course offered on massive open online learning platform edX.
Compared to students taking the same course in a face-to-face setting, the MOOC participants learned as much or more.
And that goes for even the least prepared, as reflected by their scores on pretests. (Co-author David) Pritchard said improvement levels increased across the board, explaining that, even if a student with a lower initial score ends the online course with what would be equivalent to a failing grade, “that person would nevertheless have made substantial gains in understanding.”
“This certainly should allay concerns that less-well-prepared students cannot learn in MOOCs,” researchers wrote.
In either setting, students will do better if they interact in small groups and participate in peer-to-peer learning, Pritchard told MIT News.
Pritchard hopes to track online students — “how long they spend watching lectures, how often they pause or repeat sections, how much of the textbook they read and when, and so on” — to figure out which online learning designs work best.
Many MOOCs have very high sign-up rates — after all, they’re free — but most students never start the course or quit after a few sessions. The study looked at those who stayed with the course to the end.
Should students loans be available for job training?
Under the federal Higher Education Act, students are eligible for Title IV student loans and grants only if they attend formally accredited institutions. That makes some sense, for purposes of quality control. Except that under the law, only degree-issuing academic institutions are allowed to be accredited. And only the U.S. Department of Education gets to say who can be an accreditor.
By blocking new competitors, the system drives up costs, argues Lee. That prices most Americans “out of the post-secondary opportunities that make the most sense for them” and plunges “most of the rest deep into debt to pursue an increasingly nebulous credential.”
The Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act would give states the power to create their own, alternative systems of accrediting Title IV-eligible higher education providers. . . . State-based accreditation would augment, not replace, the current regime. (College presidents can rest assured that if they like their regional accreditor, they can keep it.) But the state-based alternatives would not be limited to accrediting formal, degree-issuing “colleges.” They could additionally accredit specialized programs, apprenticeships, professional certification classes, competency tests, and even individual courses.
States could allow the Sierra Club to accredit an environmental science program, a labor union to accredit its apprenticeship program and Boeing to accredit an aerospace engineering “major,” Lee writes. Professors — or others with expertise — could go freelance, offering their teaching talents online.
In today’s customizable world, students should be able to put their transcripts together a la carte – on-campus and online, in classrooms and offices, with traditional semester courses and alternative scenarios like competency testing – and assistance should follow them at every stop along the way.
Employers already have shifted a lot of job training to community colleges. Now they could keep it in house — if their state agreed — with federal taxpayers footing the bill. Smashing the cartel could make today’s quality control problems even worse, responds Jordan Weissmann on Slate.
The entire point of requiring schools to be accredited before they can become eligible for federal aid is to make sure students don’t take out loans for a worthless education while burning taxpayer money in the bargain. As the rise of unscrupulous for-profit colleges demonstrates, the accreditors have basically abdicated that responsibility. Adding yet more accreditors into the mix, and making more programs eligible to profit off of loan dollars—without making it easier to kick schools out—would only worsen our problems with predatory colleges.
“Agencies might be more willing to punish a bad actor if they could downgrade its accreditation status rather than revoke it entirely—which is the only option available to them right now,” writes Weissmann. That’s one of the ideas proposed by New America policy analyst Ben Miller on EdCentral.
A low-cost, online “NanoDegree” earned in six to 12 months could revolutionize higher education, writes Eduardo Porter in the New York Times.
AT&T created the new credential with Udacity, the online education company founded by Stanford Professor Sebastian Thrun.
For $200 a month, it is intended to teach anyone with a mastery of high school math the kind of basic programming skills needed to qualify for an entry-level position at AT&T as a data analyst, iOS applications designer or the like.
. . . “We are trying to widen the pipeline,” said Charlene Lake, an AT&T spokeswoman. “This is designed by business for the specific skills that are needed in business.”
“It is like a university built by industry,” said Thrun.
The NanoDegree is designed to be a flexible, efficient and stackable job credential for people who don’t want to spend two or four years in college to qualify for an entry-level technical job.
But, so far, Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, aren’t closing the opportunity gap, writes Porter. Those who do best with MOOCs tend to be college graduates who want to learn new skills. In a Penn study, fewer than 10 percent of MOOC enrollees completed the course. Most lost interest in a few weeks.
Most community college students don’t have the literacy or drive necessary to succeed in courses that offer little or no face-to-face interaction, concluded a study by Teachers College, Columbia researchers. MOOCs are for the self motivated.
However, online education that’s directly tied to a job “may do better in giving low-income students a leg up,” writes Porter. “And companies, rather than colleges, may be best suited to shape the curriculum.”
AT&T will accept the NanoDegree as a credential for entry-level jobs and plans to hire 100 interns with the degree. Udacity is creating NanoDegrees with other companies. “It’s a more focused education with less time wasted,” Mr. Thrun told me. “They can get a degree quickly, get a job and then maybe do it again.”
Online enrollment grew by 5.2 percent at community colleges from fall 2012 to fall 2013, even as traditional enrollment declined, reports the Instructional Technology Council’s 2013 Distance Education Survey. Twenty-six percent of community college students enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2012, according to IPEDS data.
“The retention gap” between online and traditional students “has narrowed dramatically” in the past nine years, ITC reports. Colleges are shifting their focus from adding online offerings to improving the quality of online courses.
MOOCs have not caught on.
Most community college distance education administrators and faculty remain skeptical of massive open online courses (MOOCs) due to their low student retention rates, low teacher-to-student interaction, inability to authenticate students, and lack of financial sustainability. A few community colleges have received grant funding from private foundations to develop MOOCs that offer self-paced online orientations and remedial help, but few community colleges have created a financially-sustainable model for creating MOOCs for their students.
Only half of the community colleges surveyed are able to meet the growing student demand for distance education courses.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) promise to democratize higher education, but it’s not clear that promise can be kept for underserved and underprepared students, writes Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.
According to large-scale studies of online learning conducted in two different community college systems, students who enroll in at least one online course are quite different from those who opt for an entirely face-to-face schedule. As one might expect, students in online courses are older, more likely to have dependents, and more likely to be employed full-time. Yet they are also more advantaged: they are less likely to be ethnic minorities, less likely to be low-income, and less likely to be academically underprepared at college entry.
Most community college students who take online courses take only one or two per semester, writes Jaggars. Many say it’s harder to learn online; few say it’s easier. In a survey of Virginia community college students, online learners said “they received less instructor guidance, support, and encouragement in their online courses; as a result, they did not learn the material as well.”
For highly confident, highly motivated, and high-achieving students, this relative lack of interpersonal connection and support may not be particularly problematic. However, low-income, ethnic minority, or first-generation students—that is, most community college students—are often anxious about their ability to succeed academically, and this anxiety can manifest in counterproductive strategies such as procrastinating, not turning in assignments, or not reaching out to professors for help. . . . online courses need to incorporate stronger interpersonal connections and instructor guidance than most currently do.
Skeptical about the “massive” nature of MOOCs, some community college leaders are experimenting with using online content within a “flipped” classroom model, writes Jaggars. Students study the material online on their own, then review and apply the material in a small, face-to-face, instructor-led class.
MOOCs may “improve access to college-level learning among technology-savvy working adults who hope to upgrade their skills,” concludes Jaggars. But there’s no evidence that online courses can “improve both access and success” for community college students.
The rise of MOOCS lead Ed Central’s Top Ten Higher Ed Stories of 2013. “The massive open online courses have huge potential to bring learning to more people, and to do it cheaper.”
Also on the list is U.S. Department of Education approval for Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America, “the first school to award federal aid based on direct assessment of students’ learning.”
President Obama sent higher education stakeholders into a tizzy with his August announcement that the administration would implement a wide-ranging plan to get college costs under control. The centerpiece of the plan would rate colleges on a variety of metrics, and with Congressional approval, tie the ratings to financial aid eligibility.
Congress lowered interest rates on federal student loans and tied the rates to the market.
“Merit aid madness” benefits the wealthiest students.
(Colleges) “increasingly using their institutional financial aid as a competitive tool to reel in the top students, as well as the most affluent, to help them climb up the U.S. News & World Report rankings and maximize their revenue.
Other top stories are questions about the fairness of income-baseded repayment, policy changes for Parent PLUS loans, the rewrite of gainful employment regulations, data transparency and a OECD report “identifying one in six Americans as lacking basic skills necessary for the workforce.”
Ed Central proposes a college scoreboard design.
In a few years, MOOCs went from fad to destroyer of higher ed to flop, but MOOCs have a future, writes Rachelle DeJong on Minding the Campus. It lies “somewhere between adapting to a niche clientele and rebounding to capture” hundreds of thousands of students.
She envisions three possibilites.
First, MOOCs could become “advanced technical schools and outsourced employee training,” as predicted by Walter Russell Mead.
Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun is is moving in this direction after giving up on competing with brick-and-mortar BA programs.
The new MOOC-ish master’s degree program at Georgia Tech is an example: AT&T is a major funder of the Georgia Tech initiative, planning to send its employees through the program and to hire additional high-performing program graduates. Forbes reports that a growing number of businesses are authorizing MOOC versions of their training courses.
MOOCs could be “usefully middlebrow,” a sort of Readers Digest version of college courses, suggests University of Michigan professor Jonathan Freedman. It might be college lite, “but it’s not comic books, either,” writes DeJong.
It’s also possible no-cost MOOCs will “encourage renewed interest in the humanities,” DeJong writes. When college costs are high, students are drawn to what they see as practical STEM courses.
MOOC completion rates aren’t all that low, writes Kevin Carey on EdCentral.
That’s misleading, Carey counters. That four percent appears to be the percent of “registrants” who finished the course; it includes people who never logged on and those who logged on and immediately dropped out.
For example, Penn’s “Mythology” MOOC attracted about 15,000 registrants who never started, 20,000 starters who immediately stopped and 25,000 active users. “Nearly 60 percent of the people the study reported as not finishing the course never tried to finish,” writes Carey.
Of 25,000 active users, only 1,350 completed the course. That’s not much, Carey concedes. But it’s very close to the percentage of Penn applicants who complete a degree.
Anyone can sign up for a Coursera course, just as anyone can apply to Penn.
Last year, 31,218 students applied to Penn. Thirteen percent were admitted, and 63 percent of those students enrolled. In other words, Penn had (or will have) roughly: 27,200 Applicants who were not admitted 1,500 Admittants who did not enroll 330 Enrollees who did not graduate 2,200 Graduates Or, to put it another way, about seven percent of all students who “signed up” for the University of Pennsylvania by submitting an application end up graduating four years later, which is almost precisely the same as the percentage of Active Users who completed a MOOC in the study held up as evidence that MOOCs don’t work very well.
Penn doesn’t admit the less capable, less motivated applicants, writes Carey. Coursera lets everyone try.
Applying to Penn takes effort and money, while signing up for Coursera takes 30 seconds and is free.
An apples-to-apples comparison would probably include everyone who requested a Penn application, or logged onto registrar’s website, but didn’t complete an application. That number would be substantially larger than 31,218, and drive the graduation ratio down further still.
Nearly all Penn undergrads are full-time students who’ve invested a lot of money in their degree, so they’re highly motivated to finish. “Coursera students come in all ages and nationalities and many already have college degrees,” Carey writes. They’ve invested no money, so they can quit without penalty.
The Penn study concludes the 16 MOOCS have “few active users” and that “few” students persist to the end. But Mythology drew 25,000 active users, which is more than twice the number of Penn undergrads, Carey points out. The 1,350 who finished represent a huge increase in Mythology completers. “The researchers could have taken exactly the same data and issued a report finding that ‘MOOCs achieve ten-fold increase in course completers for Ivy League class, at zero cost to students’.”
After suspending its MOOC trial for a semester, San Jose State will offer three online courses developed with Udacity in the spring. The online versions of Elementary Statistics, Introduction to Programming and General Psychology won’t be massive or open. Class size will be limited and only California State University students will be eligible.
MOOCs (massive open online courses) are red hot in higher education, reports Time. A third of college administrators think residential campuses will become obsolete. State legislators are pushing for-credit MOOCs to cut college costs. But, how much are MOOC students learning?
“At this point, there’s just no way to really know whether they’re effective or not,” said Shanna Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, which has produced some of the most recent scholarship about online education.
Enrollment in online college courses of all kinds increased by 29 percent from 2010 through 2012, according to the Babson Survey Research Group. However, completion rates are low. Only about 10 percent of people who sign up for a MOOC complete the course.
Advocates say that’s because there are no admissions requirements and the courses are free; they compare it to borrowing a book from the library and browsing it casually or returning it unread.
In addition, completers don’t earn college credits. In a survey by Qualtrics and Instructure, two-thirds of MOOC students said they’d be more likely to complete a MOOC if they could get college credit or a certificate of completion. That still not widely available, notes Time.
Until it is, said Jaggars, it will be hard to measure the effectiveness of MOOCs—a Catch-22, since without knowing their effectiveness, it’s unlikely colleges will give academic credit for them.
To study what happens when students get credit for online courses, Teachers College looked at online courses at community colleges in Virginia and Washington State that were not MOOCs—since tuition was charged and credit given—but were like them in other ways. The results were not encouraging. Thirty-two percent of the students in online courses in Virginia quit before finishing, compared with 19 percent of classmates in conventional classrooms. The equivalent numbers in Washington State were 18 percent versus 10 percent. Online students were also less likely to get at least a C, less likely to return for the subsequent semester, and ultimately less likely to graduate.
San Jose State’s experiment with for-credit MOOCs was suspended in response to very low pass rates. Pass rates improved significantly in the summer semester, but “a closer look showed that more than half of the summer students already had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to none of the students who took online courses in the spring.” Even then, more summer registrants dropped out than in traditional classes.
“In general, students don’t do as well in online courses as they do in conventional courses,” said Jaggars. “A lot of that has to do with the engagement. There’s just less of it in online courses.”
Despite all this, 77 percent of academic leaders think online education is as good as face-to-face classes or better, Babson found. Four in 10 said their schools plan to offer MOOCs within three years, according to a survey by the IT company Enterasys.
In a new Gallup poll, 13 percent said employers see an online degree as better than a traditional degree, while 49 percent said the online degree has less value for employers. Online education gives students more options and provides good value for the money, but is less rigorous, most respondents said.