7. Why MOOCs Are Only Part of the Answer?

7.1. The Importance of Context and Design

I am frequently labeled as a major critic of MOOCs, which is somewhat surprising since I have been a long-time advocate of online learning. In fact, I do believe MOOCs are an important development, and under certain circumstances, they can be of tremendous value in education.

But as always, context is important. There is not one but many different markets and needs for education. A student leaving high school at eighteen has very different needs and will want to learn in a very different context from a 35-year-old employed engineer with a family who needs some management education. Similarly, a 65-year-old man struggling to cope with his wife’s early onset of Alzheimer’s and desperate for help is in a totally different situation to either the high school student or the engineer. When designing educational programs, it has to be horses for courses. There is no single silver bullet or solution for every one of these various contexts.

Secondly, as with all forms of education, how MOOCs are designed matters a great deal. If they are designed inappropriately, in the sense of not developing the knowledge and skills needed by a particular learner in a particular context, then they have little or no value for that learner. However, designed differently and a MOOC may well meet that learner’s needs.