The MOOC point

Updated: Aug 4 2014, 06:39am hrs
Providing education to thousands of people across the world and that too mostly free of cost is a noble thought. However, implementing this thought successfully is not an easy task. The massive open online courses (MOOCs) are one of the most progressive steps in this direction.

A Canadian academician group coined the term MOOCs back in 2008. It was used for teaching their course to a group of 25 paying students as well as around 2,200 students who got free enrolment. Over the next few years, three Stanford instructors started their two separate companies to provide MOOCsUdacity and Coursera. Later, other players also emerged and MOOCs became a global phenomenon. In India, the closest approximation to MOOCs is the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), an initiative by IITs and IISc Bangalore.

When you think of learning through MOOCs, the primary question that arises is: How do these companies teach thousands of students I would say that, at this stage, they dont.

MOOCs are a big step towards the progress of our higher education system, but currently what these companies do is just deliver information over the internet, with occasional peer review and assessments. This, in my view, is not education. Education involves a much more comprehensive learning approach than just transmitting facts.

Technology is definitely an enabler in providing education access to more and more people globally. It would, however, be a big mistake if one believes that by providing instructors recorded/live videos with few multiple choice questions or assessments/assignments reviewed by peers, we can provide a classroom experience to a student.

Data currently shows that less than 10% of the total enrolled students in MOOCs actually complete the courses. There are many reasons behind this. Before we get into the details, we need to understand how students are taught over the internet.

While these companies have a lot of renowned faculty and programmers who develop their learning platforms, hardly any of them hire instructional designers, curriculum designers or people who are trained in educational technology. Instructional design is the systematic process by which instructional materials are designed, developed and delivered. With technology available at disposal today, a particular concept can be taught through a recorded real-time video or an animation or as an interactive game, among other mediums. A true learning experience comes with an efficient blend of these mediums using the right instructional design.

Developing effective instructional design is a hard skill and requires continuous practice over the years, even when most of the instructional designers generally have Masters or PhD degrees. Unfortunately, faculty who are not trained in instructional design currently design majority of the courses.

Another trouble that MOOCs face is handling diversity of various students. For a comprehensive learning, localisation becomes inevitable. Localisation is not just to do with translating the language, but more so with the context and the culture. Even in case of relatively more context- and culture-neutral courses like physics, learners tend to localise the same in form of references used and applications.

At the same time, MOOCs companies are trying to bring students of varied proficiency and academic background on the same platform to study. A lot of studies have already questioned the methodology for traditional offline classroom model, and scaling the same to thousands of students online is definitely less productive. Though a lot of advancement has taken place with respect to providing personalised and adaptive learning to learners, no MOOCs company has been able to successfully incorporate it in its model and scale till date.

In conclusion, there is a long way that MOOCs have to go for creating a massive impact. While in a traditional classroom model, faculty is the dominating factor to create an effective learning ecosystem, in a MOOC, instructional designer along with faculty will have to play a crucial role in the near future to ensure the promised value creation. As put by famous education researcher Yishay Mor, educators will have to shift their role from providers of knowledge to designers of learning.

By Arpit Mehta

The author is co-founder, Sharp Edge Learning.