I will be the first to admit that there are some good reasons to hate MOOCs. The problem that I run into, however, is that when I talk to people that don’t like MOOCs, none of those good reasons are on their list. You usually hear default arguments about drop-out rates, lack of feedback, cost, etc. Not that those aren’t valid issues, its just that the way most people look at those issues are flawed. Most of those flaws have been effectively addressed in research papers and blog posts.

What I would generally say in response to the people that don’t like MOOCs is 1) forget the term MOOC and 2) just focus on the idea of open online courses and why you need them. No matter what your institution is, if you are in education, I would say you need to be doing at least some experimenting with open online courses… and I mean fully open courses, not just ones that are an extension of a college course (i.e. some of your learners are earning credit).

The “killer value” (in my opinion) from a design standpoint with open online courses is that all of the learning is voluntary. No one is holding a carrot of “grades” or “passing for credit” in front of the learners. By investigating what happens in your own open online course, you can see first hand what works and what doesn’t when learners have to be purely intrinsically motivated. This research into practical application can then directly influence the design of your traditional classes. What do the successful parts of open online courses tell you about learners in your institution’s courses? What does learning look like when threats of institutional punishment are removed from the equation? If something doesn’t work in an open online course, should you really consider that a “good” learning design in a traditional course? Sure, you can force them to do whatever you want with the threat of failure – but how effective is that for authentic learning?

Faculty – think about this: what does it tell you about your abilities as an instructor when you are teaching an open course and can no longer rely on graded discussion boards to connect with learners? What does it tell you about your ability to foster community when you can’t force learners to reply to at least two other threads? Think of all that you can learn about yourself and teaching in general from teaching in an open online course.

Sure, you can read the research about these issues and glean some insights from the literature. But those papers are not written in your unique context. Some factors are going to be different in some major way. You really need to know these issues within the context of your institution, your faculty, your class, your instructional designers, your students (and potential students), etc.

edugeek-journal-avatarI would even go so far as to say that every instructor that teaches online should be required to teach at least one open online course every other year or so – maybe even more often. It really is an eye-opening experience.

(Quick note: I realize that there are many, many other killer values out there for open online courses – I am just highlighting one that has been on my mind for a while.)

(image credit: Sanja Gjenero, obtained from freeimages.com)

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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