March 5, 2024

MOOCs Are Dead. Long Live MOOCs!

Author: JimS
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By John Mark Walker
Open Source & Community Lead for Open edX

“MOOCs are dead.”

That’s quite a statement from the CEO of one of the largest MOOC (massively open online course) platforms in the world. But that’s exactly what edX’s CEO, Anant Agarwal, said in November at the edX Global Forum in Boston.

But the platforms that have powered MOOCs? They’re far from dead. Instead, they’re evolving. MOOC platforms are now being used to power complete programs, which, in the future, may look very different than they do today, thanks to the power of these e-learning systems. Because while the MOOC market may not be growing, online learning is growing rapidly. It’s already an intrinsic part of K-12 and higher education and has also been adopted for commercial purposes, such as customer training, corporate training, and even community building. By 2024, analysts predict it will grow to a more than $200 billion global industry.

The designers of MOOC platforms know they need to change to remain relevant because the one-size-fits-all model doesn’t actually really fit anyone very well. Learning must be interactive and applicable to each individual learner, responding to their needs, level of knowledge, and learning style. In response, these platforms are becoming more collaborative, and not just between teachers and students. Professors need to collaborate with course designers to tailor content and flow; instructors need to communicate with content developers to improve it for the next course. Collaboration and communication among all the stakeholders should be the norm, not the exception, and MOOC platforms are rapidly adding and improving on these capabilities.  

Another large need in higher education e-learning is more integration, interoperability, and portability between platforms. For example, most universities have a standard commercial learning management system (LMS) where they store critical data and metadata such as grades, but they often use a different platform to actually create and deliver courses. Those two systems need to be integrated using a common format, which is not an easy task because most commercial platforms want to encourage customers to stay within their own proprietary ecosystem.

That said, integration needs to go deeper than grades and student information. For starters, it should be easy to share and incorporate content between platforms. At Harvard University, the DART (Digital Assets for Reuse in Teaching) program is doing just that, acting as a learning tools interoperability (LTI) bridge between content providers and LMS platforms. Specifically, DART has made it possible for any Harvard instructor to add digital assets from DART content sources such as edX, SoundCloud and YouTube to their residential courses in Canvas, the LMS that Harvard uses. Thanks to a large grant, Open edX is working with OpenCraft and Harvard on a major update to the Open edX storage layer that will make content much more modular so that instructors can swap it in and out as they wish.

MOOC platforms are already being used to power complete degree programs. Georgia Tech, for instance, offers an Online Master of Science in Analytics through edX, while the University of Illinois offers masters programs in business administration, accounting, and data science through Coursera. But if educational communities can continue to push platform integration and content portability, in the future, students may be able to design their own personalized degrees from smaller, modular chunks that cross institutional barriers.

For example, data scientists obviously need a strong computer science background, but they also need to fully understand the industry in which they plan to work. Data scientists in geosciences have a very different job description from those who work in politics. Today, a student would need to obtain two degrees to gain all the knowledge and skills they require. In the future, a student may be able to create a hybrid degree that pulls content not just from their own institution, but from other accredited sources as well.

The growth of MOOCs may have stalled, but MOOC platforms are very much alive and poised to play an enormous role in the evolution of higher education. Through deeper integration and the ability to easily share content, higher education can make enormous gains in delivering the kinds of programs and course that will best benefit their students.

John Mark Walker is the open source and community lead for Open edX. He is also one of the lead organizers of Open edX 2019, which will take place in San Diego March 26-29.

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