A Second Wind for MOOCs?

Massive Open Online Courses have had a bumpy history.

Their promise, when the idea was gaining full momentum a few years back, was that so long as a course was well designed it could scale infinitely to teach four thousand students as ably as it could teach twenty. Not only that, but some forward thinkers hypothesized that a MOOC would run better with more students than with less, effectively flipping the quality standards for student-to-teacher ratios on their heads. However, buzz around MOOCs quickly lost its steam due to unforeseen challenges.

MOOC students seemed to lack motivation. Some MOOCs were built before best practices in online education were completely understood. Sometimes, even when everything in the MOOC functioned perfectly, the certificate or badge or grade a student received from such an experimental course was of dubious value to employers.

It could be said that MOOCs were more or less abandoned while in beta. The souring of the initiative is explored further in Robert Zemsky’s 2014 piece for the Journal of Education, humorously titled “With a MOOC MOOC Here and a MOOC MOOC There, Here a MOOC, There a MOOC, Everywhere a MOOC MOOC.”

So, if MOOCs more or less pronounced dead somewhere between 2013 and 2014, why is it that Georgia Tech is doubling down on them today?

Inside Higher Ed sat down with them recently to dig in why.

As it turns out, it looks like Georgia Tech has managed to find the right balance to many of the actual and perceived issues with MOOCs that were holding them back.

As an institution, their name carries some weight. That addresses one pitfall, namely the one concerning the value of MOOC-awarded degrees and certificates to employers.

And there’s actually a cost associated with their MOOC-based programs, though it is still a (on paper) great deal: less than 10,000 dollars per degree. It’s possible this financial commitment is a stick or carrot to prop up otherwise low motivation and low completion rates associated with the MOOCs. Students are more compelled to finish something they’ve paid for.

Another 10,000 figure? That’s the amount of students they’re projecting to have enrolled after the third year of their newest program under this model. Their first program, still running and reportedly successful, had some lessons to teach them, they admit. But with the University turning away incoming students due to simply having a very limited amount of space in their residential programs, this method gives these students – as well as ones with no interest in packing up and moving – an opportunity to get a George Tech education in a successful, but still experimental in many ways, learning setting.

By the sounds of it, they plan on continuing to offer programs using this method for residential programs that are experiencing comparable over-enrollment. We’ll be watching, and reporting, on how well that goes.

Featured image of this post by Elliot Lepers. 

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