Online Learning: MOOCs and More

by | Nov 7, 2014 | 0 comments


Deanna Marcum and Franny Lee

Deanna Marcum (L) and Franny Lee (R)

Deanna Marcum from ITHAKA S+R (at left above) presented the results from a controlled study of blended MOOCs in the Public Flagships Network, a consortium of 17 of the largest public research universities. Ten institutions were studied, and interviews were conducted with the president, provost, chief financial officer, director of online learning, and 10 department chairs at each institution. The main opinion sought was what administrators think online learning will do for them, and how faculty think about online learning.

Some of Deanna’s findings include: Administrators are optimistic about online learning to broaden access to higher education. Faculty believe that personal interaction with students is the ideal; many feel they can teach their students better because they know them better. They do not believe that online learning can reduce costs. Experience creates more confidence in online learning. There is little interest in using materials created by others.

A second study of MOOCs was conducted at the University System of Maryland (USM). It asked faculty if they would try using a MOOC to see if learning outcomes would be increased and costs reduced; 22 faculty members agreed to participate, but not all of them used the entire MOOC. Research questions focused on student outcomes and the effects of MOOCs on faculty’s activities.

Findings of the USM study included: Learning outcomes are almost identical for MOOCs or traditional courses. Students liked the hybrid classes (those that used only some parts of a MOOC) less than traditional courses. They thought the hybrid courses were harder and they learned less.

Faculty used the MOOCs to replace lectures, using classroom time for discussions and problem solving; substitute them for other supplementary materials (like a textbook would be used); filling in gaps in expertise; exposing students to other styles of teaching and class discussion; reinforcing skills (such as critical thinking, problem solving); and teaching students how to learn online.

Benefits for faculty included: Serving as professional development for instructors, relief from time pressure during semester, and the flexibility to try new teaching approaches in class.

Challenges were finding the right content, some content was too hard or too easy, there was not enough assessment, technology integration, intellectual property issues, and student engagement (many got tired of watching the MOOC after a short time).

Opinion on cost savings was divided.  The average time reported by faculty to prepare a MOOC was 100 hours.

Here are some implications that can be drawn from these two studies:

Implications of MOOC studies


Franny Lee, Co-Founder, SIPX, a cloud-based system for managing and sharing digital course materials. There are many different pieces necessary to create a MOOC, such as funding, video preparation, legal issues, TA support, administration, technology, and pedagogy.  SIPX supports the content and copyright issues of the pedagogy component. There is a critical need for schools to put the necessary infrastructure in place to help MOOC creators deal with all these complicated components which are, in most cases, outside of an instructor’s comfort zone.

Schools are trying to find more effective methods for education by measuring what is happening, which SIPX can do.  It has been used in the creation of 30 courses as MOOCs.  The usual result is that it is rare that no changes are made in a course after SIPX is used.


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