MOOCs and the Seven Futures (Part 2): MOOCs as Access Vehicles

MOOCs and the Seven Futures (Part 2): MOOCs as Access Vehicles


MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) have some interesting potential as vehicles for redistributing access, helping higher education realize the unfinished revolution of redistributing access to all.

My previous post in this series on MOOCs mentioned how MOOCs can make learning experiences available to audiences for which they were previously inaccessible. Let’s explore this angle in a little more detail by comparing how MOOCs might help higher education realize the unfinished revolution of redistributing access to all with the Seven Futures framework [Note: this is this is an updated version of the criteria found on p. 105):

  • Serves previously neglected or underserved populations
  • Expands access universally while preserving individual autonomy, dignity
  • Helps more learners live better lives in a knowledge economy
  • Reaches nontraditional students more effectively
  • Accommodates more lifelong learners in an ever-greater variety of ways
  • Increases chances of broadly defined student success

So, how do MOOCs enable redistributed access in ways that meet these criteria?

First, MOOCs are expanding access to learning experiences offered by elite institutions. The actual offering of such courses and learning experience is not at all new; Stanford, Harvard, Penn, UC Berkeley, and many other elite institutions have been offering noncredit courses for decades. What’s new about this is the scale, visibility, and ease of access (flexibility, convenience) offered by online delivery. Thus, MOOCs are a vehicle for accommodating more lifelong learners in new ways.

Second, MOOCs are clearly reaching new audiences, especially international audiences. For example, an Inside Higher Education article last summer reported that three-fourths of Coursera’s course takers were from outside the U.S. Although this proportion may change as more schools make more offerings available, clearly MOOCs are enabling schools to reach this population in new ways. As Rahul Choudaha noted in a blog posting last June, MOOCs offer an excellent vehicle to use for international student recruitment and transnational education delivery. As Choudaha noted, taking a MOOC can be like taking a test drive before buying a car. And the international demand for MOOCs indicates that this population was previously neglected or underserved (relatively speaking).

Third, this ‘trying out’ aspect works both ways: MOOCs offer a means for students to try out the college experience, only in this case at a presumably “elite” level. In this respecti, MOOCs function like open educational resources (OERs); as I argue in Seven Futures (p.90), MOOCs as OERs enable students to take a trial course as practice for the real thing. Thus MOOCs are a way of reaching nontraditional students more effectively.

In some respects, however, the prospects for MOOCs to enable redistributed access are much more uncertain IMO. For instance, is the current plan for some schools to grant credentials (non-credit, non-degree) to successful MOOC completers for a “small” fee a way to increase chances for student success by more broadly defining it? Or is it simply a continuation of what these schools have already been doing for decades -- or a watering-down of “cachet” that will ultimately backfire? Will Udacity’s intent to use its MOOCs as a “talent scout” vehicle to match students with companies help more learners live better lives in a knowledge economy? If so, how and how well? Time will tell...

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