Will Moocs fail to give students help they need?

Massive open online courses’ lack of study support, for-profit aims may not be ethical, Online and Open-Access Learning in Higher Education conference hears

February 14, 2013

Source: Getty

Sink or swim: students who struggle may be ‘just left behind’

Massive open online courses (Moocs) fail to support students, offer outdated pedagogy and should not be run by for-profit companies, a conference has heard.

Speaking at the Online and Open-access Learning in Higher Education: Moocs, New Pedagogies and Business Models event in London on 5 February, Josie Taylor, professor of learning technology and director of the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, said Mooc providers had not done enough to help struggling students.

“If you think the target audience for the Mooc you are about to launch could include a lot of inexperienced learners, then as a teacher, as a pedagogue, you have an obligation to provide for them ways in which they can be supported,” she said. “If you don’t, you are abdicating your responsibility to the people you are encouraging in - and ethically that is not a good thing to do.”

She said feedback from some Moocs suggested that participants are “just left behind” if they do not understand the course content.

Professor Taylor expressed opposition to Moocs being run for profit, despite the fact that Futurelearn, the UK-based platform announced by The Open University in December last year, will be profit-seeking.

“What are the ethics of driving these developments for profit? In the UK- based education system I would like to keep them as not-for-profit…the ethics of collecting data on students and using it for institutional gain, I would question,” she said.

Of the “big three” US platforms, Udacity and Coursera are run for profit, while the third, edX, is run as a not-for-profit organisation by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

Also at the event, Diana Laurillard, professor of learning with digital technologies at the London Knowledge Lab - a collaboration between Birkbeck and the Institute of Education, both University of London - questioned the motives of organisations offering Moocs.

She singled out Coursera, which offers 221 courses from 33 universities including the University of Edinburgh and the University of London International Programmes.

“The reason why venture capitalists are putting $22 million (£14 million) behind Coursera is not because they believe in the importance of nurturing the individuals. It’s because they see all that data they can use,” Professor Laurillard said.

She questioned Moocs’ quality of teaching. “They are not a revolution. So much of the pedagogy is this presentational, talking heads sort of thing. We’ve been telling ourselves for years we need to get away from that pedagogy, and now here it is slamming back at us again.”


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