What are MOOCs and do they really work?

Why The MOOCs Don't Work: They Just Make Education Worse

Rosie Allabarton

By now, you’ve probably heard about MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses are lectures from big name academics broadcast to a global audience, online, for free. Although an interesting alternative in online education, and an opportunity to avoid student fees and inflexible course timetables, a new wave of thought is rising up against the MOOC. With 90% dropout rates and no teacher-student interaction, students are beginning to question the worth of enrolling in courses which appear to be more for the benefit of the lecturers’ reputation than the students’ own academic’ advancement.

In his article The MOOC Racket, Jonathan Rees discussed the problems that can arise when education is reduced to a series of online lectures available to thousands of students at a time.

Although MOOCs give students from all over the world the opportunity to undertake a course from the comfort of their own living room the disadvantages are manifold. Lecture fatigue, lack of personal support from a mentor or guide, an ineffective grading system, very high dropout rates and a lack of a student community are leading many to question this way of learning.

Rees argues that a MOOC is not in fact ‘education’ in the true sense, but merely an opportunity for professors to ‘deliver information’. In his article he questions the incentives and motivations attracting top name professors into leading these courses and how students and higher education institutions themselves are ultimately being failed by this new trend in education. He believes status for the professors, rather than money, plays a very large part in the MOOC movement as it appears many are not being paid well or at all for what they do.

Teaching a MOOC has become a route to making a name for yourself in your field; they have become less an educational tool for the students and much more a stage from which professors’ can have their own voice heard and applauded.

My guess would be that most superprofessors became superprofessors because the chance to become higher-education rock stars got the best of them, as the ones willing to talk publicly about compensation are making little or nothing.

Despite these drawbacks no one can deny the power of all this free online education. As a social phenomenon, access to education in this way - that is available for everyone, for free - is unprecedented and changing the way we live, work and learn. No one wants to move away from that or undo the huge steps forward we have made. But, as we have seen, it is not a perfect system. Something needs to change to utilise this power to its best advantage, to take what we have learned and move it a step further. Students need interaction with their teachers and fellow students. They need support. What we have seen so far is that MOOCs fail to address the need for communication as a learning tool. As one New York Times journalist described it, the professors teaching these courses are “only slightly more accessible than the pope or Thomas Pynchon.” In their elevated status as so-called ‘superprofessors’ these academics have no responsibility towards their students’ learning. They deliver their lecture, then they leave.

A new interactive alternative - a combination of online learning and personal interaction - is the answer. At CF we offer the same online, global flexibility as a MOOC but with that all-important teacher-student relationship. With our mentors students receive personal feedback on a weekly basis, support throughout the course and a go-to person with any questions or queries they may have. This is what is missing from a MOOC. A ‘rockstar’ professor is all well and good but if you have no direct point of contact with this academic superstar their value to you as a student equates to nothing more than an instructional youtube video. Learning is a social process. It is not just the giving and receiving of information. With the help and guidance of a mentor students can take the information they have learned and really fly. This is the true meaning of education.

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Rosie Allabarton

Rosie Allabarton

Contributer to the CareerFoundry Blog