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Magazines > Information Today > December 2013

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Information Today
Vol. 30 No. 11 — December 2013
The Evolution of MOOCs
by Michael Cairns
COO, Publishing Technology, PLC

Michael CairnsMOOCs (massive open online courses) are here to stay. While some of the early hype may have dulled, the concept of the MOOC still appeals to students and many educators. Those who don’t like them point to the lack of completion rates, the limited business model success—even bad teachers—and dismiss MOOCs as a fad that’s had its day; however, the arguments in favor of the proliferation of the MOOC concept will ultimately win out. Nothing remains static, and the MOOC’s deficits will ultimately represent forward steps on the path of experimentation and product development. If the hype has died down this year, this is at least in part due to a settling of the market—not to a failure of the model. Important alliances have been made and, as a result, time, money, and effort is being spent on program development, analysis, and experimentation. Out of this process—whether at individual schools or via the larger consortia such as edX or Coursera—will come a slow but progressive series of success stories and deeper integration with what we traditionally think of as “higher education.”

The evolution of MOOCs will also become entwined with some broader issues of higher education effectiveness, cost, and access. More universities will see MOOCs as a means of managing some or all of these issues at a local level, whether they’re looking to reduce tuition (and/or operating expenses), provide more course offerings, or expand beyond their traditional market or catchment area. Experimentation will also include local testing of MOOCs used in combination with small in-class/in-person structures: This will provide more immediate social interactions and communication with colleagues while, at the same time, capitalizing on the “star professor” and the wide exposure to other student backgrounds that MOOCs can provide.

Oddly, given MOOCs’ reliance on the network, we may not have seen yet the full impact of technology on this space, particularly in assessment and testing. Adopting Big Data principles could ultimately yield better teaching methods and enhanced outcomes in education. Using data predictively to determine a student’s knowledge is an obvious application. Using Big Data to help students and workers learn (and/or relearn) new skills in the shortest possible time will become increasingly important as jobs and professions change rapidly and frequently. Big Data could be used to make learning more programmatic, self-directed, and, ultimately, more attuned with specific objectives. One result of this trend and the adoption of MOOC elements may be the progressive elimination of the “traditional” higher education school year calendar.

These trends will naturally have an impact on how content is created, represented, and distributed to students. As barriers to publication and distribution fall, publishers will increasingly have to deal with content produced by new providers who have traditionally been customers—universities, libraries, and perhaps even the students taking the courses. Even more importantly, content will become an integrated component of a wider offering that “service providers”—maybe those businesses we call “publishers” today—provide to schools, universities, faculty, and other types of educational entities. Content is integral to the current education model but is not necessarily integrated as part of a comprehensive offering. That will change as we see larger publishers such as Wiley, Pearson, and McGraw-Hill Education begin to bring the services model into the education arena.

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