Disruption in Higher Education: MOOCs

Posted on February 2, 2013. Filed under: Community Colleges, Higher Education, MOOCs |

Why is everyone talking about MOOCs? Well, mostly because we know what they are (Massive Open Online Courses), we can see why they are cool (making college-level teaching available to anyone who has internet access, anywhere, anytime, and for free), and we know they will disrupt higher ed as we know it today – but we don’t yet know exactly how. (I wrote teaching instead of learning or education because the missing part of [many] MOOCs is the assessment of learning – but that, too, is changing).  So we need to stay on top of this story so our sector (community colleges) can be part of the transformation instead of watching it go by us.

To better understand the potential of MOOCs, I signed up for Udacity’s Introduction to Statistics course (taught by Sebastian Thrun, CEO of Udacity). I haven’t finished the course yet but I learned about the platform, saw how students can get engaged and participate as active learners, and I liked it! At one point, I looked up from having worked on the graphing and probability sections and more than an hour had passed without my knowing it (much the way my sons can play video games for hours with no sense of the passage of time or the need for food or sleep).  If our students can learn the same student learning outcomes from a MOOC as an MCCC course, then they should be able to show that (e.g., take and pass MCCC’s final exam) and receive credit. And that could change everything…

To see what people whose insights are way more important than mine think of MOOCs today, check out the  Harvard Business Review blog: Eight Brilliant Minds on the Future of Online Education (the 8 include Larry Summers, former president of Harvard; Bill Gates; Rafael Reif, president of MIT; Sebastian Thrun, CEO of Udacity; and Daphne Koller, CEO of Coursera.) The conversation was part of a panel at Davos moderated by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times. Audience member Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, commented

“The overall quantity and quality of formal education hasn’t changed whereas the informal education has skyrocketed in the last 30 years. People used to go to library and now go to Wikipedia. We haven’t really begun to understand the impact on that.”

If you would like to try a MOOC for yourself, check out what is available at Coursera (courses taught by faculty from Cal Tech, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania and others), EdX (for courses taught by faculty from Harvard, MIT, Berkley, and others) or Udacity.  New courses are added all the time.

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