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Can MOOCs be a successful alternative for community colleges?

By Matt Lawson
January 19th, 2016

MOOC-community-colleges

Why the MOOC hype could still be real; and the power of pairing with analytics and big data.

MOOC-community-collegesFirst offered in 2011 at Stanford, modern MOOCs were primarily computer science courses made open to anyone with an internet connection. It didn’t take long for the concept to catch on, and soon MOOCs were more pervasive and being touted as the future for higher education.

While that hype has not panned out, MOOCs did find a good foothold in our nation’s community colleges, where online classes provide scheduling flexibility for nontraditional students dealing with life demands; lower-cost options for students who need more cost-effective alternatives; or a stop-gap remedial solution for students needing help to fill in holes in their educational backgrounds.

That last use case has proven to be a top priority for community colleges across the nation. When I was the Director of Enterprise Services for Virginia’s Community Colleges, improving student success was a cornerstone strategic goal for the community colleges. Community colleges face unique challenges with student success: in the U.S., at least 50 percent of entrants need at least one year of developmental education in order to be prepared for entry-level college courses. MOOCs offer the possibility of allowing students to improve their basic skills and test into college‐level courses without having to pay for remedial classes.

Are MOOCs for everyone? No. Like most other online and internet-based education, it is self-directed and self-paced. With the large percentage of community college students in need of developmental education, MOOCs may not be the best path forward as these developmental courses have not traditionally been successful as MOOCs.

Research has established that community college students often struggle with online learning environments, and the MOOC format can exacerbate these challenges. And, adding another layer of challenge, in many of the free MOOCs, completion rates are extremely low, somewhere between 5 percent and 10 percent.

So, can MOOCs be successfully used at the community college level? Yes, with the right support.

(Next page: The potential of MOOCs in community colleges for developmental learners)

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