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The MOOC movement

We ask Anant Agarwal, MIT Professor and CEO of edX, what's next for the MOOC?

Posted by Julian Owen | October 30, 2017 | Technology

Online learning has evolved significantly in the last year. What would you say has been the biggest development in the way you provide online courses?

The biggest development for MOOCs over the past couple of years is offering courses and programmes that offer pathways to credit at a college or university. In order to offer credit-grade MOOCs, the online learning platforms must have high academic integrity and uphold a certain standard of course quality and rigour of assessments. This could include integrating virtual proctoring and randomised problems into the platform; integrating hand grading, in addition to peer grading; and creating many innovative, rich assessment types that go well beyond multiple choice.

An example of a credit-grade MOOC programme offered on a credit-grade platform in action, is MITx’s Supply Chain Management MicroMasters programme, which was the pilot programme for the MicroMasters initiative offered on edX. From this group of MicroMasters learners, which completed their credentials in June 2017, MIT has admitted 40 students into the traditional on campus programme. These MicroMasters students will be able to complete the campus master’s programme in half the time and half the cost.

Has your relationship, and the way you work with universities, had to change in-line with these developments?

EdX was founded by, and continues to be governed by, colleges and universities. We don’t believe that MOOCs will replace universities, but rather enhance the quality of education by incorporating blended learning. Offering credit for courses completed on the edX platform changes our relationship with our partners because we are now supporting an inverted admissions model.

As an example, with our MicroMasters programs, universities are able to include in their evaluation of master’s degree applicants a student’s performance in the MicroMasters programme. Successful completion of the MicroMasters programme signals an applicant’s commitment to learning and also demonstrates an applicant’s ability to tackle rigorous, master’s-level content and thus succeed in the master’s programme. Students benefit from an inverted admissions process as well, in that they are able to try master’s-level course work in a field before committing significant time and money toward applying for and enrolling in a master’s degree.

Is the international MOOC market different to the UK? 

EdX has learners from all over the world. Only 23% of learners are from the US, and the rest are international. In fact, the UK makes up 3% of our almost 13 million learners. We also work with prestigious universities in the UK including University of Oxford, Imperial College of London and University of Edinburgh. 

"We don’t believe that MOOCs will replace universities, but rather enhance the quality of education by incorporating blended learning."

What does the immediate future hold for online courses?

In the immediate future the number of colleges and universities accepting online credentials as credit on-campus will continue to expand, and schools will continue to experiment with innovative ways to blend on-campus and online learning offerings to create greater flexibility for students. Georgia Tech is currently piloting an entirely online master’s degree in analytics for under $10,000 that consists of a MicroMasters credential paired with seven additional MOOCs.

Where do you see online courses developing in the months/years ahead? 

In the future we see an unbundled approach to education, unbundling credit, time and content to create an approach that does not require learners to spend four years on-campus. We envision students earning stackable credentials at their own time and pace, that they can build into a bachelor’s or master’s degree that best fits their career goals and interests. 

 Is HE keeping up with the developments in online learning, and what advice would you give a university to ensure they can respond to increasing and changing demand? 

The two biggest developments that we see for MOOCs in the future is the adoption of credit-bearing platforms and increasingly blending the best of in-person and digital delivery of educational content. 

In order to offer credit-grade MOOCs, online learning providers must have a platform with high academic integrity.  This means that the platforms have to uphold a certain standard of course quality and rigour of assessments. This could include integrating virtual proctoring and randomised problems into the platform; integrating hand grading, in addition to peer grading; and creating many innovative, rich assessment types that go well beyond multiple choice. New partnerships between universities and online platforms must also be developed to support such innovative models.  

The rise of blended learning will also result in unique and innovative classroom models. For example, MIT recently conducted an experiment where they offered the fully-online version of their popular Circuits and Electronics course for on-campus students, for credit, in an attempt to help students facing scheduling issues. The results found that students not only performed well but also reported feeling less stress and having more flexibility. Many other universities have also conducted such blended pilots. 

www.edx.org

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