Top Challenges Facing MOOCs

This year will likely be a definitive one for MOOCs. The massive online courses sprang onto the scene to much enthusiasm in 2012, but then were hit by some serious setbacks in 2013 (e.g., the failed Udacity-San Jose State partnership). In 2014, the focus will be on how best to get the most out of MOOCs, both within and outside of the educational system.

In December, an article in the Silicon Valley Business Journal reviewed the top five challenges facing ed tech as identified by Salman Khan and Coursera at the Atlantic Silicon Valley Summit. Here, we’ll look at those five issues and explore what MOOC providers are doing to address them.

Expanding Access

One of the biggest promises of MOOCs is opening the doors of education to anyone who wants it—all that is needed is a computer and an Internet connection. At least it works in theory. In reality, a great many people in countries around the world don’t have the technology tools necessary to take advantage of online courses. In addition, some MOOCs are currently blocked in certain countries because of economic sanctions. Issues like these will in part determine how well MOOCs are able to trulyexpand access to education.

Going Mobile

Mobile Internet usage is growing by leaps and bounds, and many people now use mobile devices for the majority of their Internet activities. Also, many people who don’t have access to computers do have mobile devices. To meet the needs of learners, MOOC providers will need to take their offerings mobile. This is already happening to some extent: Coursera has a mobile app that allows students to watch lectures and perform some other activities, but it doesn’t yet have the total functionality of the website.

Increasing Motivation

Low completion rates are the norm for MOOCs, and learner motivation in online courses is in general lower than for face-to-face courses. Although completion rates alone are not an accurate measure of MOOC success, if the courses are to be useful for anything other than personal learning and development, providers will need to find ways to keep students engaged and motivated. One method that Coursera is adopting is making the learning activities shorter and more modular, so that students can dip in and out of courses more easily. Any school, company, or other organization interested in using MOOCs as part of a full curriculum will need to address the issue of learner motivation.

Integrating with the Classroom

There is growing interest in the use of MOOCs as supplements to, rather than replacements for, traditional courses. Already, professors are using the edX platform to create learning materials for their regular courses, and edX President Anant Agarwal has suggested that MOOCs could have a place in classrooms as enhanced digital textbooks. This year is likely to see an expansion in the ways professors use MOOCs in the classroom.

Formalizing MOOC Credentials

Whether or not MOOCs are accepted as formal education depends in part on how employers view them. Coursera, edX, and Udacity have all recently launched verified credentials for MOOC sequences, some of which employers have agreed to accept. This year, as students start to “graduate” from these programs, we will see how much weight these alternative credentials will really have in the job market.

MOOCs have their work cut out for them, but they are supported by growing interest in new, less expensive models of education. However it turns out, 2014 is going to be a very exciting year.

About the Author

Degreed Co-founder @davidblake