MOOCs have attracted millions of students and captured the public imagination over the past year, allowing people from all walks of life to learn from leading scholars at elite universities — free of charge.
But the question remains: Can these large-scale, highly automated classes help increase college completion rates or lower the cost of earning a degree?
So far only a small number of institutions are offering degree credit for MOOCs, but that could change if more colleges determine the digital classes meet their academic standards.
Earlier this month, the American Council on Education said it will recommend credit for five Coursera courses. The association is evaluating more MOOCs for possible credit recommendations, which many schools use to decide whether to grant credit for nontraditional courses.
Critics say online-only courses have unacceptably high dropout rates and aren’t well-suited for struggling students who need more face-to-face interaction and mentoring to succeed.
EdX’s Agarwal said colleges should use MOOCs to improve — rather than replace — campus-based education by combining online lessons with classroom instruction.
San Jose State University students who recently took a “blended” version of an edX engineering class performed significantly better than students who took the classroom-based course, he added.
“I really believe the blended model is really a key approach to improving campus education,” said edX President Anant Agarwal.
The MOOC movement has also encountered some setbacks during its rapid expansion.
(Next page: Other well-regarded institutions are jumping on the MOOC bandwagon)