Do MOOCs Really Matter In The Overall Picture of Education?

This morning I was pondering what impact Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) would have on the overall landscape of education. Most people involved in education that I speak to haven’t even heard of them. Many people (myself included) drop out of them before they really get started. So the question we have to wonder is: do they really matter if they aren’t going to be the next big thing in education?

Many educators certainly seem to have an obsession for searching for “the next Google” or the next “Facebook for education” or the next big thing to change the face of education.  Some think that MOOCs will be that next big thing, others think they are going nowhere.

The problem is not the with MOOC, but with the question. We don’t need one specific thing to the be THE end-all big thing for education. We have suffered too long in systems that want to have one cookie-cutter answer for everything. Want to teach an online course? Into the LMS box you. Want to blog? The LMS box has that for you, too.

I am starting to talk to more and more students that never read the syllabus of their online course. They feel the courses are becoming too similar and predictable – so why bother re-reading a cookie-cutter syllabus? If students are getting so used to online courses that they are going on cruise mode to take them, then it is time to shake things up a bit.

For most of us, the importance of the MOOC format is not the idea itself, but the fact that it represents a different way of teaching a course or idea or skill. We don’t need it to become the next big thing – we need it to become one of many new formats that online courses can be taught in.

And we need many other formats out there to spring up and gain traction. We need to offer a greater variety of formats and options, just like you see in face-to-face courses. Do you teach Science labs with the lecture method? Do you sit Art students down in the self guided labs and hope they figure out how to create art? Face-to-face courses have different formats (even though some do need to break out of the one or two they are stuck in), so online courses need to follow suit…. maybe even blaze new trails.

So even if you can’t stand MOOCs, you should at least follow their development and support their existence, or else it will be back to the cookie cutter for us all.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

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