Better Residential Learning Is The True Innovation of MOOCs

Notes from the edX Global Forum.

November 10, 2015

This week the edX community is being graciously hosted by Georgetown University to discuss our initiatives in open online learning.

EdX is, at its heart, a non-profit consortium of educational providers. This is not what I think folks normally think of when they think of edX. 

Say "edX" and most people will talk about MOOCs and the technological platform, (in the case of edX an open source platform), that enables teaching and learning at scale.

The evolution of open online education, and the technologies and methodologies that we use to teach open online courses at scale, are certainly part of the edX and MOOC story.

I’d argue, however, that the true innovations of MOOCs are not those found inside the open online courses.

The most important innovations catalyzed by MOOCs have very little to do with technology, or even pedagogy. Rather, they are innovations at the level of institutional organizational and cultural change.

Happily, these organizational and cultural changes all result in more attention and investment in residential learning.

This outcome, that the real story of MOOCs is better (large enrollment) courses, is a story that outside of the edX (and other MOOC provider communities) is not yet widely understood.

For as long as we can remember, the large lecture course has served to cross-subsidized the small seminar.  Putting one professor in a room with hundreds of first-year students is a very cost-effective model.

The impact of MOOCs is that no institution wants to have residential courses that are comparable in quality (and outcomes) to MOOCs. 

Residential classes must add value beyond that which can be gained (and measured) in open online education. 

The relational and active learning advantages of face-to-face education must be realized.

There seems to be a strong consensus at the edX Global Forum that traditional foundational (large introductory lecture) courses will either evolve or disappear.

Large-enrollment introductory courses will either get much better - with significantly greater investments - or they will migrate to open online venues such as ASU’s Global Freshman Academy.

The large-enrollment introductory course cross-subsidy is over.  That model of postsecondary economics has been displaced.  (I almost said disrupted, but that word seems too loaded to use at this point in history).

The evolution of large-enrollment introductory courses owe additional debts of gratitude to MOOCs. 

Participating in open online experiments has convinced many faculty members (and provosts) about the wisdom of taking a team-based and data-driven approach to course design.

A large-enrollment introductory course is as much a complicated production as an open online course designed to be taught at scale.  The same methodologies employed to produce a MOOC - such as backward course design and the development of learning outcomes - also apply to the development of big residential courses.

The same teams of faculty, instructional designers, media educators, librarians, and assessment experts who have gained trust and experience in working on MOOCs will also work on redesigning large-enrollment residential classes.

The desire to leverage data and analytics to evolve pedagogical practices that has been so much a part of the MOOC world also applies to residential teaching and learning.

This transfer of thinking and practice from MOOCs to residential courses is not new. Those schools that have built traditional online learning programs know about the power of distance learning to transform the local campus.

What is different about MOOCs is that they brought a different set of players to table. 

How are large-enrollment introductory courses changing at your institution?



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