Can MOOC Videos Help Bridge the Gap Between School and Work?

One of the most disheartening stories this year—for students and employers alike—has been that most employers don’t believe that colleges and universities are doing a good job preparing students for work. The gap between what students are learning and what employers are looking for has led some students, who in many cases are already paying exorbitant tuition, to shell out even more money for programs focused on job skills training.

Can MOOCs help students bridge this gap?

An interesting perspective on this question comes from Marci Powell, the Global Director for Education Industry Solutions at Polycom, who suggests that the video-based format used by most MOOCs may help students learn knowledge and skills associated with video conferencing, which is increasingly used as the communication strategy of choice in business.

According to a Techday article, Powell suggests that video conferencing provides a much-needed link between education and the workforce. This involves both learning how to use video conferencing technology to communicate and to work in geographically dispersed teams, as well as providing students with access to subject matter experts. She said: “You now have at your fingertips all these content and subject matter experts leading the students into the workforce. There is a tie between secondary and tertiary education and business that creates a career pathway.”

Many people are already using MOOCs to gain knowledge and skills they hope will translate into a new job or career, but this is the first time I’ve seen it suggested that learning how to use MOOC technologies themselves could also provide valuable job skills. It represents a non-standard approach to thinking about the courses, and it is this kind of thinking that will lead to new ideas about how to get students from where they are now to where they need to be to compete in the job market.

What are some other ways, outside of the content, that MOOCs might be able to help students better prepare to enter the workforce?

Today’s Expansive Learning Landscape

What do you want to learn — leadership, design, programming? Learners today have so many choices, it’s almost mind-boggling. Check out this great new infographic from Degreed in partnership with Todd Tauber from Bersin by Deloitte. Warning: It might make you feel a bit like a kid in a candy store.


Higher Education Goes on the Defensive

Have you noticed lately how much higher education is on the defensive?

Here is a case in point. New research from the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank shows that the wages of new college graduates are rising more slowly than for the rest of the U.S. workforce. This finding is not really surprising—we already know that new graduates have higher-than-normal rates of unemployment and underemployment. What is interesting is that, according to Huffington Post, the authors of the report still “argued it would be ‘misguided’ to conclude that going to college is a poor investment.”

If we were to take a snapshot of the current situation, we would find that many recent grads can’t get jobs, and the ones who do get jobs are both working below their level of education and seeing their wages stay relatively stagnant. Given this information, how can anyone really conclude that college—meaning the traditional degree system we have now—is really a good investment?

The researchers on the Federal Reserve Bank study suggest that college graduates will just take longer to earn back the cost of their education than generations before. But the economic and workforce landscapes are shifting so quickly, how can anyone be sure they will ever be able to earn it back? And if education continues to get more expensive, and wages continue to grow at a slower pace, how do we know that graduates two or five years from how will experience any lifetime earnings benefit at all?

In his Alumni Day talk at Princeton, national education leader Hunter Rawlings outlined the most common criticisms aimed at higher education, including high tuition, how long it takes to graduate, and so on. Rawling admits that some of the criticisms are indeed justified—undergraduate education has not been a priority, grade inflation is a problem, universities haven’t worked hard enough to limit their costs, and the college sports business is out of control.

He also thinks many of the criticisms aren’t justified, noting that negative perceptions of higher education come largely from universities being viewed as businesses and degrees being viewed as pathways to jobs. Echoing a common refrain, Rawling suggests that critics are erroneously focusing on money rather than on intrinsic value.

Rawling is right about the current focus. However, if the public has the “wrong” view of the current higher education system as being about the money, it is because that is the image colleges and universities have themselves projected. An education system that continues to charge more even while some costs are going down, where large numbers of students are not developing the reasoning and thinking skills a college education is supposed to provide, and where athletes are given scandal-worthy special treatment, does not appear on the outside to actually provide the intrinsic value it purports to offer. And if that isn’t the value universities are offering, is it outlandish for people to expect at least a credential that will get them a reasonable paycheck?

I’m not arguing that education doesn’t have intrinsic value that can’t be measured in dollar figures–of course it does! But systemic problems in higher education have opened the door to things like MOOCs and alternative credentials, which are by and large focused on developing skills that will translate into jobs, because that is what today’s students want and need. If colleges and universities want to be judged by a different standard, they will first have to ensure they are actually meeting that standard.

If higher education is on the defensive, it’s because it has backed itself into a corner. And it’s going to take a lot more than arguments about intrinsic value to get it out.

Note to Ourselves: MOOCs are Still Experimental

It has been more than two years since MOOCs as we know them first came on the scene. They are still such a huge force that nearly every day, there is some MOOC news or new MOOC research, or even just new opinions put out there about why MOOCs are either the best or the worst thing since sliced bread. The Georgia Tech MOOC computer science master’s degree is in full swing, companies have jumped on the MOOC bandwagon with both feet, and many other organizations—both academic and corporate—are considering different ways to use MOOCs in their education and training programs.

As the discussion continues, it seems like a good time to step back and remind ourselves that despite the huge numbers of students around the world who have taken them, and the gains that have been made in improving the quality of the learning experience, MOOCs are still very much experimental.

EdX President Anant Agarwal, who indeed has articulated one of the most radical visions of how higher education might change in the future, is also the first to point out that MOOCs are still in their early stages: “This is experimental in nature. These platforms, at the level that we are talking about, have never been built before.”

He also cautions about getting too far ahead of ourselves, suggesting that some early ideas about MOOCs may have actually hurt them: “I think some of the very early rhetoric for MOOCs may have scared professors and other universities. Certainly some of the early MOOC purveyors made some very bold claims about how many universities would be left standing and so on, which frankly hurt everybody. I think if we had been a lot more circumspect in how we had gone about this, I think a lot more people would have been involved.”

The higher education system is in deep trouble, and MOOCs provide one possible solution to the problem of how to provide more affordable and accessible education to all those who need it. As more MOOCs come on the scene and more research comes out about the courses, it is in our best interest to remember that MOOCs haven’t reached their final form—they are still in the process of evolving. Rather than demonizing MOOCs as a destroyer of education or putting them on a pedestal they haven’t yet earned, let’s focus on what MOOCs do well, where they need improvement, and how we can use them to create meaningful learning experiences for all those who are seeking an education.

Do MOOCs Spell the End of Business Schools?

A report released yesterday by professors at the University of Pennsylania’s Wharton School of Business likely has b-schools around the country shuddering in fear. If the professors, Christian Terwiesch and Karl T. Ulrich, are correct, then business schools as we know them are all but kaput.

The reason for the pessimism at the current b-school model, and optimism about the MOOC model, comes down to cost, primarily the cost of faculty. Breaking down the numbers, Terwiesch and Ulrich find that the total cost per course taught by a tenure-track faculty member is $57,000, or $1,475 per student, while for adjunct instructors, the cost is $37,000 per course, or $975 per student.

In very large contrast, they calculate the cost of developing a MOOC as $70,000, with a marginal cost of $7,000 of each offering. If the course is offered 10 times, attracting a total of 250,000 students over all 10 cycles, that breaks down to a cost per registered student of $0.56 and a cost per completing student (based on 5% completion) of $11.20.

According to the authors, the drivers of this huge savings is the technology used in MOOCs, which they call SuperText. By this, they mean the format in which content is authored by a subject matter expert (SME) and delivered using short video segments, each instance of a course can be customized to particular learning objectives, course content is released in batches, assessments are adapted to learning objectives, and students interact with course administrators rather than with the SME.

The authors write: “It is SuperText that poses the threat and the opportunity. The MOOC, we argue, is a Trojan horse: While public attention was focused on the massive and open characteristics of the courses, the SuperText technology quietly proved highly effective as a learning technology.”

They suggest that the SuperText technology will lead business schools in one of three directions:

1. Existing faculty will use the technology to increase output.
2. Because the technology is more efficient, fewer faculty will be needed to produce the same output.
3. SuperText will alter “the entire architecture of business school education.” As an example, Terwiesch suggested in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education that business schools could move to a model that combines a short immersion program with lifelong learning.

Basically, the authors suggest that MOOCs will do exactly what faculty have been fearing they would do the whole time: lead to job cuts. They recommend that faculty should focus on making themselves relevant in the new environment, by enrolling in online courses, starting to use the SuperText technology, or moving to areas that won’t be affected by SuperText.

What do you think? Do MOOCs spell the end of business schools?

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