6. Political, Social and Economic Drivers of MOOCs

6.8. Don’t Panic!

These are all very powerful drivers of MOOC mania, which makes it all the more important to try to be clear and cool-headed about the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs. The real test is whether MOOCs can help develop the knowledge and skills that learners need in a knowledge-based society. The answer of course is yes and no.

As a low-cost supplement to formal education, they can be quite valuable, but not as a complete replacement. They can at present teach basic conceptual learning, comprehension and in a narrow range of activities, application of knowledge. They can be useful for building communities of practice, where already well-educated people or people with a deep, shared passion for a topic can learn from one another, another form of continuing education.

However, certainly to date, MOOCs have not been able to demonstrate that they can lead to transformative learning, deep intellectual understanding, evaluation of complex alternatives, and evidence-based decision-making, and without greater emphasis on expert-based learner support and more qualitative forms of assessment, they probably never will, at least without substantial increases in their costs.

At the end of the day, there is a choice for institutions between throwing more resources into MOOCs and hoping that some of their fundamental flaws can be overcome without too dramatic an increase in costs, or investing in other forms of online learning and educational technology that could lead to more cost-effective learning outcomes in terms of the needs of learners in a digital age.