Online Education and MOOCs

Here’s a small group guide for a discussion of e-learning in higher education.


Online Education Examples:

The “gist”:

The internet has made many sectors of the economy, and indeed life itself, more volatile and decentralized. Coupled with economic insecurity, the online revolution is now transforming higher education. The conventional model for education is under attack for many reasons. Foremost, higher education appears as the exclusive preserve of those who can afford the cost, big blocks of time (measured in semesters and years), and distance from family commitments.

Perhaps we can leverage technology to reduce barriers to access and reduce costs. In the process, decentralization threatens many storied traditions of university life. A physical campus where students interact may become unnecessary. The lecture model for teaching used for a thousand years may wither away. Learning may reside in non-human appliances rather than professors and other students. Cheating may require more sophisticated, high tech policing. More students may succeed as massively open online courses become available for free. Simultaneously, more students may fail as motivation or ability to self-regulate falters.

Networked learning makes a number of assumptions. First, basic digital literacy is presumed. Technical challenges will be overcome. Assessment and evaluation of developmental learning can be standardized or automated. Course developers as inquisitive minds will be stimulated within the context of online learning environments and adequately paid. MOOCs and courseware instructional design also assumes that affective learning mode – pleasure, frustration, feelings, rapport, and interest felt – can be captured as easily as cognitive learning mode – someone’s ability to recall a list of learned items, their ability to generalize and apply knowledge – and can be measured or tested.

Key terms and definitions:

MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) – Characterized by scalability and oriented at the community, MOOCs are distance education products that often rest on the pedagogy laid out by “deschooling” proponent Ivan Illich.

LMS (Learning Management System) —A client-server application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, and delivery of educational courses.Blackboard/WebCT, Canvas, HCOL virtual classrooms are examples.

Hybrid classes – Courses partially taught in the classroom and partially online. Blended or mixed-mode courses are those that take place in multiple contexts or environments.

Flipped classroom – An education where the focus at class time is on one-to-one teacher-student or peer-to-peer education. Homework is reserved for online lectures produced by “superstar professors.”

Computer aided instruction (CAI) – The use of computers for education and training. The term often became synonymous in the 1990s and early 2000s with “drilling” facts or message board-style learning.

Keylogging – Monitoring the frequency and rate of keys struck on a keyboard, in this case to detect cheating.

Discussion questions:

  • Is it true that an education is such a scarce commodity these days that most universities are already engaged in rationing such services? If so, will online education relieve the problem?
  • Will online educational tools tend to increase variety or homogenize education?
  • Charlie Firestone of the Aspen Institute is quoted as favoring “passion-based education” in the Pew Survey story. What do you think that is? Can any online course become “passion-based”? Is there any virtue to an education passively consumed?
  • What is it that a teacher or professor (mostly) does? Is she a “content developer”? A “motivator”? Something else?
  • Is a face-to-face education always better than one delivered online? Does technology facilitate the gamification of higher education, or is education as delivered in higher education already mostly gamified?
  • Is a university education still relevant? If so, why is there so much marketing and administration attached to it?
  • Will there still be physical universities with campuses in the future? Why or why not? What will happen to education that happens outside the classroom? Where will that go?
  • Is a university that graduates only 42.4% of its students wasting resources? What about 7%? Why or why not?
  • What will happen to students who are “demotivated” (as defined by Bill Gates)? Where will they get an education in a world where most education is delivered online?
  • Is it okay that most students (enrollees) will never finish any particular MOOC?