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Is Higher Education Ready For Rapid Evolution of xMOOCs?

        This article was originally posted at e-Literate

Recently I wrote a post arguing that xMOOCs such as Coursera, edX and Udacity will likely evolve and that “while the current examples of massive online courses are interesting, the real potential of MOOCs will be revealed in future generations.”

Today Antioch College announced that it is creating a new MOOC-for-credit partnership with Coursera. The key points as summarized by Tony Bates (via Inside Higher Ed article):

This article reports on an interesting deal signed between Coursera and Antioch University. Antioch is a well-established private university with campuses in four different states, with around 4,000 mainly adult students. Under this deal:

  • Antioch University will pay Coursera for the rights to offer MOOCs from 33 universities for credit as part of its third year undergraduate program, focusing particularly on students transferring in from community colleges (the fourth year will be on campus)
  • Antioch will charge a lower tuition fee for these courses (closer to community college fee levels than public universities’)
  • Antioch will assign a faculty member to provide learner support for Antioch-registered students in each MOOC-based course, with about 20 students per instructor (as for on-campus classes)
  • Students will take an exam at the end of each course for credit from Antioch
  • Coursera will pay rights to the universities contributing MOOC courses to Antioch.

Tony has some interesting comments on the development (read the whole post), but I’d like to call out that the rapid evolution culture of venture capital backed companies is quite different than the deliberate approach of higher education. There’s an interesting discussion regarding the Antioch news in Google+ based on Donna Murdoch’s post. My point:

I’m not sure if higher ed is prepared for the venture capital mentality. Coursera in particular is evolving quickly, trying out models and moving on. I do see a consistent effort to find a MOOC-for-credit model (Washington, Texas, now Antioch). I also expect to see the for-profits get in the game soon.

This is the nature of venture capital – rapid exploration, trial-and-error, and often failure (fail quickly is a positive attribute to VC-funded companies, allowing a “pivot”).

Despite the well-known limitations of xMOOCs, they are not stagnant beasts. It seems the primary evolution is in business model – unfortunately we are not seeing the same evolution in interactive approaches and pedagogy.

The downside of this evolution is that business models are taking precedence over pedagogy or effectiveness. However, it is interesting that Coursera is attempting to navigate two of the four barriers I believe xMOOCs must overcome to find a sustainable business model:

So what are the barriers that must be overcome for the MOOC concept (in future generations) to become self-sustaining? To me the most obvious barriers are:

  • Developing revenue models to make the concept self-sustaining;
  • Delivering valuable signifiers of completion such as credentials, badges or acceptance into accredited programs;
  • Providing an experience and perceived value that enables higher course completion rates (most today have less than 10% of registered students actually completing the course); and
  • Authenticating students in a manner to satisfy accrediting institutions or hiring companies that the student identify is actually known.
Expect more changes to come in the MOOC world, hopefully to start including course design and pedagogy with the same priority as sustainable business models and growth.
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