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Why Some Colleges Turn Down MOOC's

May 31, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Massive Open Online Courses (or “MOOC’s,” as they’re sometimes called) are something of a trend in education these days. But not all colleges are buying into it. For example, Amherst College recently turned down an invitation to become one of the exclusive consortium of schools involved with edX, a Cambridge-based nonprofit that offers online courses for colleges—a group that includes Harvard and MIT.

EdX has only twelve institutional partners—but it’s received inquiries about membership from over 300 colleges nationwide. So Amherst’s refusal of this invitation is something of a surprise. Here are a few reasons why Amherst may have turned it down—and why other colleges might do the same with MOOC’s.

See Also: Massive Online Open Courses: What They Are and How They Can Help Students

For a low-cost solution, it’s surprisingly costly

MOOC’s are often touted as the solution to rising tuition costs—they’re supposed to make education cheaper to deliver, reduce costs for both students and schools, and increase access. But it doesn’t always work out that way in practice.

For instance, MOOC’s aren’t free to develop or implement. EdX charges at least $250,000 per course for organizations that want help developing their own courses—although partner schools can use existing courses on the edX platform for free.

In addition, the courses aren’t easy and quick for professors to develop or administer. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, professors spend at least 100 hours developing their MOOC’s and then an average of eight to ten hours per week on the courses while they were in session. This means they have less time and fewer resources to devote to on-campus activities.

See Also: Online College Courses

Low retention rates

According to some numbers, as many as nine out of ten students drop out before completing MOOC courses at traditional and accredited online schools. Those aren’t great numbers—and many schools that currently use MOOC’s are considering ways to boost retention by offering additional support and even blended learning environments that combine classroom and online settings. This, of course, adds to the costs of the course and can limit access as well.

See Also: Online College Degree Programs

A clash between for-profit and nonprofit models

Even edX, which is a nonprofit, needs to make sure its courses bring in money to stay sustainable. The Amherst committee that ultimately decided to reject the model worried that the organization might do things it disagreed with in order to bring in money—such as selling student data to other companies or charging for credentials in a way the college didn’t agree with. It’s possible that for some colleges, the business model of companies that disseminate MOOC’s could just be too much of a conflict of interest.

Continued discomfort with online education. Some colleges just aren’t ready to make a change toward online education—no matter how much students want it. Despite the fact that online education is becoming more effective—and more accepted, both on campus and by employers—than ever before, some colleges are uncomfortable with the concept. MOOC’s, with their high enrollment numbers, may be a particularly tough sell to smaller colleges that value reduced class sizes and plenty of student-teacher interaction.

MOOC’s may be the hottest thing in education right now—but not all colleges are getting on the bandwagon. Some are holding back—and as academia is a highly conservative field in many ways, it’s likely it will take a long time for some form of massive online course to be standard on most college campuses. Still, it is possible that as the companies that disseminate MOOC’s iron out some of the issues with development and delivery, the courses will become a more attractive proposition—even to more conservative schools.




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