MOOCs Maturing, But Still Falling Short, Study Suggests


A recently released study has taken a closer look at the quality of massive, open, online courses (MOOCs) and offered basic insights on the practice of creating these courses.

The study, “In Search of Quality: Using Quality Matters to Analyze the Quality of Massive, Open, Online Courses (MOOCs),” looks at the MOOC, which the authors say has become one of the most popular recent trends in the education world, with 2012 being openly referred to as “the year of the MOOC.”

While MOOCs are all open online courses, they can differ in a number of ways, including size, where one course may have hundreds of students and another thousands. Degrees of openness can differ as well, with some courses having limited enrollment.  Most are not offered for college credit, although there has recently been a push to do so, and while some MOOCs are taught by well-recognized instructors, others are less personality-driven and focus more on the learners.

But the study finds the one constant between all MOOCs to be low completion rates.  Despite the increasingly high numbers of individuals signing up to participate in these courses, sometimes reaching into the tens of thousands, less than 10% seem to actually finish courses.  However, some argue that this information is misleading, and MOOCs continue to draw people in with their promise of a free or low-cost education to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Critics of the movement continue to question the meaningfulness and effectiveness of these courses as a means of providing a high-quality education.  The authors suggest that in order for MOOCs to continue to be a viable option, they must be proven to meet the same quality standards that traditional courses are held to.

Finding that little research had previously been done in this area, the authors decided to investigate the design of the courses.

Using the Quality Matters framework, which holds the courses to eight standards, including learning objectives, materials, learner interaction, technology, and accessibility, among others, the authors found that none of the six MOOCs they looked at on the various platforms passed the review.  However, while one Coursera MOOC and one edX MOOC did score highly overall, the Udacity courses, which are self-paced courses offered all year, performed the worst.

Overall, all six courses examined failed to meet several of the standards, including having measurable learning objectives, clearly outlining accessibility policies, clearly outlining the extra resources available to help students succeed, and outlining student support services.

The authors stressed that they only looked at six MOOCs overall, and therefore the results cannot be generalized to include all such courses, adding that a larger sample size would be necessary to better determine such results.  However, they do say their results can be used to suggest a few conclusions, such as that MOOCs can provide a quality learning experience. They say not all MOOCs are designed the same way and therefore some provide a different learning experience, but they all seem to have a similar instructional approach that focuses on the use of videos, readings, and quizzes.

“Each of us, as responsible open and distance educators, is compelled to examine the affordances and challenges of MOOC development and delivery methods, critically examine their effect on public education and perhaps most importantly insure that our own educational systems are making the most effective use of these very disruptive technologies.”