The MOOC movement

Justin Beck, VP Education at Kaltura takes a look at the tech innovations underpinning the MOOC movement

Plenty of heated discussion has occurred online, offline, at conferences, across institutional board meetings and classrooms about the rise, potential demise, and educational value of the Massively Open Online Course Movement (MOOC), and it’s impossible to say this has not had an impact on the educational landscape.

But this is not another “Do MOOCs work?” article, questioning the value of leveraging MOOCs. Instead it is a conversation starter on the hidden impact for the edtech community of the MOOC movement.

Little analysis has been performed around the impact the MOOC movement has had on the toolkits and platforms, outside of the core MOOC suppliers like Coursera and Edx. Where is the innovation, spurred by this MOOC-sensitive market, occurring? On the surface, three main edtech areas are the principal benefactors of the MOOC movement:

  1. Adaptive Learning platforms and technology;
  2. Collaboration tools – particularly video based tools;
  3. Analytics tools at both a student and macro level. 

MOOCs have in fact prompted some significant developments and exposed a number of underlying technical requirements that will be key to the successful delivery of online learning going forward. Recently, at Educause 2014 in Orlando, Florida, this impact was apparent – particularly in adaptive learning environments, video collaboration toolkits, and granular, individual user data and analysis. 

First, the promise of adaptive learning or personalized learning technologies for the traditional classroom is to offer students a more tailored, potentially quicker, or ‘at your own pace’ learning experience. Education Growth Advisors over the last couple years have published two extensive studies of adaptive learning solutions and their market, the most recent being their Learning to Adapt: Understanding the Adaptive Learning Supplier Landscape.

Over 40 suppliers of adaptive learning platforms are mentioned in this report. Rewind 10 years and this list would have been only one or two, probably just the major LMS providers.

While MOOCs are not the sole motivation for these organisations, many are supporting institutions as they strive to deliver a quality learning experience at scale. What better test lab is there for experimenting with adaptive learning than an open access, worldwide, expansive in-time, course composed of a highly diverse set of students? 

Second, collaboration tools continue to see investment. Edtech companies, like Kaltura, have been working with institutions to help them deliver quality online experiences and engage with students by providing learning path-supportive technologies. Research shows a fundamental element to students’ success lies in their sense of belonging to a community – a connection to their institution, class, and peers, even if this connection is played out purely online. 

Personalised collaboration via chat, email and video responses shows improved learning outcomes, but the challenge with MOOCs is how to provide this type of “touch” for every student on the course, not just a vocal subset.

The ability to deliver a sense of belonging to the MOOC-subscribed masses has sparked considerable innovations in delivery, uptime, video quality, and sharing tools, for example. These tools and approaches are flexible enough to be applied to traditional courses as well as hybrid/online learning sections with a higher degree of assurance they will have an impact.

Finally, a fundamental element underpinning the success of the majority of MOOC platforms is a granular – as well as a macro – focus on user analytics. This is an entirely separate discussion worthy of its own article, but put simply, the influx of user data available on online platforms provides institutions with a tremendous treasure chest of data that can be turned into meaningful, actionable information when effectively mined using analytics tools. These powerful insights can be used to enhance services and drive students toward improved educational outcome.

Getting the combination of adaptive learning, collaboration for students and faculty, and analytics right so that it is possible to make these informed improvements and interventions is a high stakes imperative for institutions today. While there is not yet one fully-fledged solution that has emerged to offer all of these edtech tools in one neat package, it’s certainly gaining attention, investment and experimentation from companies and institutions alike. It’s only a matter of time…


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