Can MOOCs be a successful alternative for community colleges?

By Matt Lawson
January 19th, 2016


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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2 Responses to “Can MOOCs be a successful alternative for community colleges?”

January 19, 2016

Bravo for the main points of the article. I don’t usually chime in, but have seen the evolution of online 32 years in the industry teaching K-12, communications and science as a professor, and college administrator for online campus. Love my work in education technology and curriculum development. I am choosing to finish out my career in technical schools and two-year programs. Why? Open systems of information. What we see in modern MOOCs is multi-layered, captured content. The teaching approach from the institutions is fitting it into the student’s plan for progress with instructor guidance, and evaluated accomplishment of usable comptencies after they leave with the degree.
One thing not stressed in the article enough – successful tech and community schools get the student support necessity. Big Data measures for CBE and prior learning measures are game changers in establishing what MOOCs to use with students. Knowing students no longer as “fill the empty vessel up” with lecture and written tests (they aren’t empty vessels) demeans an adult of any age. Employers are begging for people who can solve problems, attend work on time and self-regulate between work and leisure time (stop using the phone to see who posted or responded). Great teachers have always been more than content experts. They’ve gotten to know their students and move them into mastery of multiple intelligences as a highly responsible person, plus help them get to the right services needed with the institution’s community to develop further based on the student’s goals for their future. Knowledge has always been a blessing: open online access is not the problem. Proper alignment of MOOCs or any open source content connected to student outcomes development is the journey many of my teaching colleagues have a hard time following – Big Data has some user-friendly work to do.

January 23, 2016

MOOCs are the perfect example of chronically perpetuating the one size fits all teaching paradigm which is painfully ineffective in transferring individual student, adaptive skills, that advance individual, sustained performance improvement.
BUT, if we try to jam that square peg in the required round hole, one more time and one more way, MAYBE we can accomplish something (have a different outcome).
The answer is no matter how many times we use traditional one size fits all elearning it doesn’t work beyond, superficial, initial understanding which is soon forgotten (WORTHLESS towards 21st century learning and 21st century skills)
BUT, if one more prominent person thinks it’s worth a try, regardless of the reseach, there remains some hope.
There is NO HOPE. Its an outdated methodology that won’t work unless the platform (software ) includes appropriate pedagogy.
WHY don’t we understand this???

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