A Second “Year of the MOOC”: 3 Platforms that Stood Out in 2013

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Late in 2012, The New York Times proclaimed that the year had been the “Year of the MOOC.” Little controversy emerged over the proclamation, not least of all because practically no one—other than leading edtech correspondents and bit-champing advocates for disruption in higher education—had even heard the term.

Now that more people have become aware of MOOC programs, and online courses continue to proliferate across the academic sphere, some news outlets, including InformationWeek.com, suggest that 2013 might in fact deserve the title. Whether the “Year of the MOOC” arrived this year or last, the fact remains that neither year was uneventful for participants or purveyors of open online education. Here’s a look at a few big innovations that helped certain platforms stand out in 2013.

MOOCs for Credit at Coursera

In February 2013, the College Credit Recommendation Service of the American Council on Education (ACE CREDIT) evaluated several Coursera courses, and five of them were recommended for credit at more than 2,000 colleges and universities. Here’s a list of those credit courses and the schools where they were created, for posterity:

  • Pre-Calculus (University of California Irvine)
  • Introduction to Genetics and Evolution (Duke University)
  • Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach (Duke University)
  • Calculus: Single Variable (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Developmental Math – Algebra (University of California Irvine)

These weren’t the first MOOCs that students could get credit for taking—an Introduction to Computer Science course offered by Udacity was accepted for transfer credit at the Colorado State University Global Campus in 2012, for example, and schools in Germany and Austria were accepting open online courses for credit even before that—but the 2013 ACE CREDIT recommendation introduced the possibility of a much wider reach for the concept.

New Learning Flow at Khan Academy

Even though Salman Khan insists that the course offerings under his umbrella aren’t quite MOOCs, this development has implications that certainly apply. Some Khan Academy students reported difficulties with placing themselves in the right courses for their skill level, so Khan and his team went to the drawing board and came up with a solution that has been met with rave reviews.

Using adaptive pre-testing and a system that suggests next instructive modules based on a learner’s previous responses, the learning dashboard at Khan Academy can now function as a sort of automated student advisor. Ben Taylor, who spent several months studying MOOCs as education manager at FindTheBest.com, stresses the importance of guidance in the world of self-directed education.

“Self-supervision is crucial for MOOCs going forward,” Taylor said in an interview. “When a student doesn’t have tuition, nervous parents, grades or a degree to worry about, it’s easy to lack the motivation to get to class and do your work. If sites can follow Khan Academy’s learning flow example, it will make it much easier for students to manage their time and class commitments.”

Khan Academy’s new learning flow also features mid-problem automated tutoring for learners who find themselves stuck. The adaptive technologies are currently only available to mathematics students, but the feature may extend to other subjects in the years to come.

MOOCs and Open Source

The open source movement continues to grow, all over the globe and in all manner of tech pursuits, and 2013 saw it spread to MOOC platforms in a big way when edX, one of the “Big 3″ providers, released its source code to the masses. As if that weren’t enough, edX also announced a partnership with Google that aims to produce an open online learning platform that’s eminently accessible to independent developers.

Stanford University, the institution around which a good portion of the first wave of MOOC fever was brewed, has been a force for open source in the MOOC community. The school ran its own open source MOOC platform, School2Go, until the decision was made to fold it into open edX and switch to that. According to Jane Manning, director of platforms for Stanford Online, “Most Stanford faculty wanted to use a platform that they read about in The New York Times.” The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the university has since begun development of another in-house open source platform, but details, as of the time of this writing, are scarce.

The Google/edX partnership is expected to release the fruits of its collaboration on MOOC.org in early 2014.

It was a good year…or was it?

These and other innovations weren’t the only MOOC news to hit the national and global screens in 2013. Some troubling statistics about demographic homogeneity published in a November 6, 2013 paper by the University of Pennsylvania and sobering news about completion rates occasioned flurries of backlash against the courses, which were heralded as an inevitable new normal just one year ago.

Still, it bears remembering that any new idea is likely to take a bit of time to get its kinks worked out. If massive open online education is ever going to do all the wondrous things that the first wave of education disruptors promised in 2012, then the true “Year of the MOOC” will be the year that the results on the ground and the hype in the stratosphere can find a comfortable place to meet. Will that be next year? Or 2015? Maybe 2021? There’s little we can do but wait and see.

About the Author:

Justin Boyle is a writer and journalist in Austin, Texas. He is a contributor to several print and online publications, including OnlineSchools.com.

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