New Study on MOOCs Underscores Importance of Instructional Design

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Excelsior College President John EbersoleA new study on Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) released this week finds that the vast majority of enrolled students are well-educated adult learners, motivated by the opportunity to learn about a subject for free. Conducted by Instructure, Inc., these findings strengthen growing concerns over the long-term financial viability of MOOCs as questions arise to whether providers such as Udacity and EdX will ever be able to charge students.

However, while monetization may be of upmost importance to companies within the space and the venture capital firms behind them, improving the quality of instructional design will be key to whether MOOCs eventually find their role within American higher education, says Dr. John Ebersole, president of Excelsior College.

“The absence of instructional design is often cited as a reason for the huge attrition rate that has been observed,” wrote Ebersole, in a recent piece on Evolllution. “While varying by offering, faculty are presented much as they appear in a classroom, with no interactivity or visuals.”

In this manner, MOOCs seem to run counter to current pedagogy, which stresses multiple forms of instructional support within a given course, regardless of subject matter, and the integration of e- learning technologies such as animations and simulations.

“Every learner is different,” said Ebersole. “Courses need to have an adaptive quality and be able to cater to multiple learning styles. Until MOOCs can integrate learning and communications theory with e-learning technology, their educational potential will remain untapped and attrition will remain unacceptably high.”

The Infrastructure study found 44 percent of respondents didn’t complete the course. Other MOOC studies have found even an even higher attrition rate.

In many ways, the solution to solving the dropout rate raises even more concerns among educators. Two-thirds of respondents in the study claimed that the ability to earn credit or even a certificate would have helped motivate them to complete the course.  Yet, the ability to offer a meaningful credential that would meet academic accreditation standards is one requirement MOOCs are ill-prepared to meet.

Still, while the hype cycle for MOOCs may have hit the “Trough of Disillusionment”, Ebersole remains committed to the idea that MOOCs have a place in higher education. Excelsior will in fact, offer two MOOCs of their own in the coming year, one on cybersecurity and the other on a growing form of e-learning technology, serious gaming. The courses will be used to create awareness of existing Excelsior College program offerings, said Ebersole.

  • Howard Schechter

    Mike, you’ve eloquently hit the nail on the head about MOOCs. Engagement with the students is on the increase and it takes a number of different interactive forms. I’ve been teaching/learning online for 20 years and taken a number of MOOC courses over that period. It’s worse than watching TV. I also believe that if there’s no “skin in the game” i.e. they’re not paying for it, the commitment level goes down. I think that MOOCs are worth exploring for their marketing potential of your university but I’d recommend going above and beyond what most MOOCs are doing in order to create a positive impression. Great posting!

    • Excelsior College Newsroom

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Howard!

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