Lesson 11 - Massive Open Online Courses

5. Strengths and Weaknesses of MOOCs

5.1. The Research on MOOCs

At the time of writing (2019), MOOCs are still less than ten years old, whereas online courses for credit have been around for more than 20 years. The latter have been subject to much more independent research, although this prior research was largely ignored in the design of the early MOOCs. A lot of the research to date on MOOCs comes from the institutions offering MOOCs, mainly in the form of reports on enrolments, or self-evaluation by instructors. The commercial platform providers such as Coursera and Udacity have provided limited research information overall, which is a pity, because they have access to really big data sets. However, MIT and Harvard, the founding partners in edX, are conducting some research, mainly on their own courses.

In this lesson, I have drawn on available evidence-based research that provides insight into the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs. At the same time, we should be clear that we are discussing a phenomenon that to date has been marked largely by political, emotional and often irrational discourse, rather than something based on evidence-based research.

Lastly, it should be remembered in this evaluation I am applying the criteria of whether MOOCs are likely to lead to the kinds of learning needed in a digital age: in other words, do they help develop the knowledge and skills defined in Lesson 8.