MOOCs don’t work

Politico has a story on how MOOCs (massive open online courses) don’t work. This is not surprising in the least.

The idea was that you could educate massive numbers of people at minimal cost simply by putting course materials on-line. Sure, you can put the one-way material — textbooks, lectures, handouts, homework assignments — on-line for the masses, but there’s much more to education than that. Indeed, if one-way material were all that were needed for education, then textbooks (some of which are excellent) would have replaced education years ago. (This was the premise of the movie Good Will Hunting, where a janitor with a library card taught himself more than MIT taught its students.)

But a lot of learning comes from a two-way process: dialogue in class, office hours, and the grading of instructive (which is to say, not multiple-choice) homeworks and exams. None of that stuff scales to massive participants, and that’s why MOOCs generally don’t work. (And that’s before you even consider the problem of cheating, which is huge if you want to offer some kind of certification.)

Perhaps there’s a way to scale up the two-way learning process so that MOOCs can work, but if there is, no one has figured it out yet.

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