Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been gaining a lot of ground since their creation in 2008, but until recently, they were strictly a helpful tool for hobbyists and self-taught students. Recent polls show that over 90 percent of “enrolled” MOOC students drop out, and there’s rarely a strong incentive for them to complete peer-reviewed papers and tests. Furthermore, most big-name schools that produce the free content haven’t created viable plans for profit and growth.
Still, MOOCs have clear potential when it comes to distance learning. The problems lie in the creation of curricula and payment models that allow all stakeholders – students, schools, and the MOOC companies themselves – to benefit. As it turns out, Antioch University is creating just such a solution.
In 2012, Antioch University Los Angeles (AULA) became the first school to offer credit for classes hosted by Coursera, a company that partners with top universities to offer hundreds of courses in over twenty subjects. In exchange for a licensing fee, AULA ran a pilot program wherein their brick-and-mortar, “traditional” students took Intro to Poetry and Mythology online. The University of Pennsylvania created the original content for both courses, and Coursera provided the platform for viewing lectures and receiving assignments.
Why pay to provide another school’s content? For AULA, it was a question of resources, student desires, and outreach. Most of Antioch’s students work full-time, so online and asynchronous classes are a no-brainer. However, it’s not exactly cost-effective for faculty to create an entire set of digital content for every course – especially those that only have one or two interested students. By partnering with Coursera, Antioch admins are able to offer high-quality MOOC content that fits their students’ degress, all for a fraction of the cost of creating new courses themselves.
Fortunately, Coursera’s MOOCs also allow for a bit of customization. For the pilot program, professors took the courses along with their students, adding supplementary readings and assignments where they felt necessary. Though that level of involvement won’t be necessary in the long run, in-person university teachers will still be able to grade their MOOC students’ papers. Finally, Antioch is currently considering the possibility of exclusive forums and chat features for its students, apart from those normally offered to all Coursera participants.
As tuition costs and applicant pools grow, MOOCs may become an essential feature at traditional universities, especially those that want to expand their distance learning programs. “We recognize we need to find different methods for learners who aren’t accustomed to coming to campus regularly,” said MeHee Hyun, co-chair of Antioch’s undergraduate program. Hyun also noted that credentials, portfolios, and demonstrable skills may soon become more important than four-year degrees. Once students value specific knowledge and experience more than a certificate, schools might need to bolster their degree programs with a wide variety of targeted, curated content.