The information and communication technologies revolution has also affected education. The emergence of the MOOCs (= Massive Open Online Courses) is a hot topic since 2011 even if e learning has existed for many years already. The concept is simple: it began with the most prestigious universities in the world, among them Harvard, Stanford or MIT. These universities set up online platforms so that every student in the world can attend a wide range of courses for free (edX, Udacity or Coursera to name the main ones). At first sight, this “revolution” looks exciting as it breaks the financial constraints students can face and then make at the same time the outcome of higher education efficient.
To be sure that the outcome is really efficient, two issues are still unsettled: the measurement of the benefit of such online courses and the remaining question of the degree that acts as a signal for students to find a job.
To my knowledge, there is no research paper that brings us some evidence that the MOOCs lead to a global positive return for participants. It is still too soon to draw conclusions. A measurement of courses’ completion rates would be much more relevant than a measurement of enrolment rates. In her paper, Crawford took the example of the edX MOOC ‘Circuits and Electronics’. “155 000 students registered for this course in February 2012, only 23 000 got points for the first problem set, 9 300 passed the mid-term, 8 200 sat the final, and 7 000 earned a final passing grade”, the completion rate is then about 4,5% for this MOOC, which is much lower than what we can observe for traditional higher education systems.
Moreover, the massive access to knowledge the MOOCs provide can pose the problem of the quality of schooling. Indeed, if too many students virtually attend a course, individual feedbacks are not available any more and the speaking time of everybody is reduced to none. The issue of quantity decreases the quality of courses even if Harvard professors teach them.
The second issue is about degree. Currently, students who follow a course on a MOOC can get a certificate of completion after passing a test they have to pay for. The first problem is that if the students want a proof that can act as a signal, it is not free of charge anymore. Indeed, if participants do not consider schooling as a consumption good they want to be able to provide a proof of their potential productivity to firms they apply to. If they are able to do so, how firms are going to react in front of a “virtually” certificate, does their screening device can be affected by this new parameter? Is it credible in our mind so far?
Are the MOOCs really going to revolutionize the world of higher education? As a very new concept, this opens a large debate and rules still have to be shaped. One thing is certain, the development of the MOOCs encourages the globalization of competition in the educational sector and higher education will be affected.
- Behrooz Parhami, “Too early for verdicts on MOOCs”, Communications of the ACM, Jul2013, Vol. 56 Issue 7, p8
- Vardi Moshe Y., “Will MOOCs Destroy Academia?”, Communications of the ACM, Nov2012, Vol. 55 Issue 11, p5-5. 1p.
- Cooper S. & Sahami M., “Reflections on Stanford’s MOOCs”, Communications of the ACM, Feb2013, Vol. 56 Issue 2, p28-30. 3p.
- Crawford F., “Shaping the future of higher education”, Charter, Jul2013, Vol. 84 Issue 6, p14-18. 5p.