Dear Commons Community,
The MOOC era to some degree has come and gone. Or has it? Daphne Koller, the founder of Coursera, gave an interview with The Chronicle of Education and discusses this question. A transcript of the interview and the podcast is available.
I think Dr. Koller makes a number of interesting comments. For instance, she readily admits that MOOCs were overhyped in their early days and are still trying to overcome their rocky start. Second, she indicated that Coursera has 145 partners around the world. She also indicated that MOOCs are being used in ten different languages and that there is a lot of interest in the international community especially those countries that have limited on-ground campuses and growing populations that want more higher education opportunities. For me her most important comment about the future especially as applied to mainstream American higher education was that:
“ I [Koller] think what we learned is the extent to which, once you have learners or students who know their own mind, what they’re looking for is so very different than the kind of experience that we’ve been providing on campus. They’re looking for shorter, more-to-the-point modules of knowledge. “
For me the key phrase is “modules of knowledge”. Coursera and other MOOC providers should think at least for the next 5-7 years about how to integrate their materials into existing academic programs. In addition to full courses, MOOC providers should consider providing modules that faculty can blend into their courses. In a sense, merge the pedagogical benefits of blended courses with the well-developed, cost-effective, access rich nature of MOOC material.
I am one of those who criticized the early deployment of MOOCs, however, they have a place in the future of higher education but the Daphne Kollers of the world need to figure out how to gracefully integrate their product into the mainstream. Blending their material is the way to go.
I think that Koller’s idea that there is intrinsic, independent value to “modules of knowledge” is self-serving and even dangerous. Of course any investigation of a topic (e.g., through a book or a lecture, even a course) is “module” but those formats can at least reference other sources and through their breadth contextualize the information presented. The marketing worth of a Coursera-type module is that is a free-standing unit that can be slotted in anywhere, apart from its surrounding material and devoid of context. It is little more than an encyclopedia entry, useful for superficial understanding — and I don’t mean to demean that degree of utility; I love browsing for information from whatever source — but not worthy of inclusion or credit in a quality program of higher education.