Sometimes the changes in our society feel like a hurricane with swirling winds changing the way we live and work. As enrollment growth tapers off at community colleges around the country, the brief breath is less the eye of a hurricane and quite possibly more like the beginning of a tsunami – where the tide rushes out to sea before it comes crashing ashore and changes the landscape forever.
I recently read an article in Time Magazine that opened my eyes to MOOCs – massive open online courses. It is education at scale. We have heard for years that top-tier universities like Stanford, MIT, and others were putting their best courses from their best faculty on the Internet for free. It has finally happened – and in a big way. Leading professors are taking the best of what they know in brain research and how people learn and are integrating it with what they know about instructional course design and assessment.
Three major ventures are leading the way. The for-profit Coursera is the largest, with 198 courses already offered with resources from 33 colleges like Princeton, Stanford, Duke and others. Udacity is also a for-profit that has 14 courses offered while EDX is a non-profit led by MIT, Harvard, Texas and Cal-Berkeley. The courses are free and gaining in popularity. More than 640,000 students enrolled in the first 13 courses and now more than 1.4 million students have taken courses from Coursera – that’s a lot of papers to grade.
I learned more about how these MOOCs are designed when I later came across a TED talk from one of the co-founders of Coursera. Here I learned that MOOCs utilize peer and self-grading and found that they are highly correlated with faculty grading. The courses start on a given day with real homework and real deadlines. They receive a certificate of completion at the end of the course, but not college credit as we know it today. A week after I read the Time article, I read an article that said Antioch University had signed a license agreement with Coursera to use their MOOCs to build new bachelor degree programs.
MOOCs aren’t likely to replace college as we know it in our lifetime. Rather, they are likely to very quickly become the next component in an increasingly diverse portfolio of community college enrollment. Just like online courses have carved out a 10 percent to 25 percent share of community college enrollments in the last 15 years, MOOCs and the certification of their competencies toward degrees are likely to do the same in half that time. We already certify previous student learning through AP credit, SAT, ACT, Credit for Prior Learning, ACE-DANTES and other means. Community colleges had best start thinking about MOOCs as well – for the wave will be crashing ashore before we know it.
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