Why MOOCs Failed to Ignite the Online Education Revolution and Why New Ed-Tech Platforms May Be Successful


Imagine someone who promises to bring you lectures and courses from academicians and professors teaching at the best universities in the world absolutely free of charge and which you can access from the comfort of your home. It wouldn’t be a million or a billion dollar idea, but an idea worth billions of dollars. Certainly, in a country like the United States where the craze for graduate degrees is high and where student debt is one of the biggest burdens on young people and their families, such a proposal would be rejected on the left. , right and center.

In fact, it would be hit instantly across the world, especially in developing countries and poor countries who would hope to get the most out of this idea of ​​democratizing education.

This is exactly what MOOCs or massive open online courses promise. But nearly a decade after arriving on the scene with much fanfare, they turned out to be duds and had little impact. Just to be sure, it’s not a case that they haven’t helped anyone. In fact, tens of thousands of students have improved their learning levels and honed their skills using these free courses, but the overall results are nowhere near what they were aiming to achieve.

Interestingly, the first three words of the MOOC acronym expansion also happened to be the main reasons for their failure. The classes are massive and have thousands of students, even more if the lecturer is famous and the classes are more in demand, for example technical classes or those that impart skills that help improve the chances of getting a job or to progress in his career.

The disadvantages of large traditional classrooms are known to most. Now multiply that by 10 to 100 and imagine the consequences. The brightest students can still get by, but the vast majority do not feel out of place and struggle to catch up. The lack of attention and impersonal care is bad enough, there is no sense of community, no peer pressure to do well, excel or complete assignments on time and no structured exams to test. regularly and give feedback.

It is clearly not enough to make knowledge accessible. We have seen in India how over the past decade seemingly well-intentioned measures such as diluting Class Council 10 exams by replacing grades with grades and compulsory promotion of students regardless of their performance. exams, exacerbated the problem of already poor learning outcomes. In the MOOCs, there is also no follow-up by the parents. Overall, MOOCs are pure education with no associated pressures that we have come to demonize over time, but as the evidence shows us they actually do more good than harm.

Massive in itself is a huge problem. What makes matters worse is that these are open too. It’s no wonder, then, that most students who sign up for a course don’t even end up finishing it. In fact, a lot of it doesn’t even go beyond listing. Basically, shopping for educational content, if you will. When something is available for free, we tend to dislike it. There is no skin in the game.

Education is often fictionalized as a charity, at least in India, and commercialization in this sector is frowned upon. But the failure of MOOCs is actually a prime example of how free education can be a losing proposition because students don’t benefit because they don’t appreciate free and those who invest huge amounts of time. and resources in development these courses do not gain much either. In fact, the opposite is true: education that comes at a cost not only helps the provider but also the recipient and is therefore a win-win proposition.

MOOCs are not only massive and open but they are also exclusively online which exacerbates the aforementioned problems. Ten years ago, when the fashion for MOOCs was at its peak, people weren’t shocked at the downsides of online-only education. But in 2022, with two years of forced online education around the world that every child and adult has been subjected to thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, people are certainly wiser and more than the benefits one is likely to hear the drawback associated with online learning exclusivity. Even early enthusiasts now accept that the hybrid model that mixes online and offline modes would be better and is the realistic way forward.

The ed-tech platforms that have grown in recent years and turned into unicorns raising billions of dollars around the world during the pandemic seem to have internalized some of the reasons for the failure of MOOCs. They try to be massive, but only in terms of audience scale, not in the traditional MOOC way of a lecture / speaker addressing tens of thousands of people. Many platforms facilitate live lectures with the ability for students to interact not only with each other, but also directly with tutors. The feedback loop is strong with regular test modules and reports sent to parents.

They are certainly not open to everyone. They charge a subscription fee for the courses. Thus, those who register already have a motivation to follow the courses. It is no longer a frivolous exercise or window shopping. There is skin in the game. This is bound to have a positive impact on learning outcomes.

The new ed-tech might still be online only, but they’re only trying to be fillers (think extra after-school classes) rather than launching a new system that will replace schools and colleges as the ones. MOOC enthusiasts once envisioned and boasted that universities will go bankrupt and the student department problem will be over. In fact, during the pandemic, when Ivy League students had to take online classes for a semester, they were very disappointed even though the same professors were giving the same lectures online that they would have given offline. It was a good illustration of the fact that education is more than just the acquisition of knowledge.

The insane boom in ed-tech and their Licorn + valuations certainly shows that some of the problems associated with e-learning are being successfully resolved. However, the real picture can only emerge once the pandemic is over. Only then will we really know how much of the change we are seeing is due to compulsion and how much it is due to choice.

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