6 reasons why institutions offer MOOCs—and whether or not they’re working

New research suggests that institutions offer MOOCs to reach many goals, but they’re often unmet

goals-MOOCs-institutionsAccording to a new report, there are six main reasons why institutions are offering MOOCs, but only two of them are actually working.

The report, conducted by Columbia University and Brown University, interviewed over 80 online learning and MOOC-knowledgeable administration and faculty from a wide range of colleges and universities to determine why institutions are offering MOOCs.

What the researchers found was that many of the reasons institutions list as the motivators behind MOOC offerings aren’t accomplishing intended goals, and there are often logistical considerations as to why these goals are going unmet.

According to the study, these are the six reasons institutions are offering MOOCs, as well as information on whether or not the goal is being met, and potential solutions to reach the goal:

1. Goal: To extend reach and access. According to the report, this goal was the most cited among administrators and faculty members (42 percent) from varying institutions as to why they offered MOOCs. Some institutions said they provided MOOCs to provide high-quality education to a global population, while others said they were trying to reach a specific population or solve a particular challenge relating to access.

Accomplished? No. Though many institutions have partnered with platforms like edX or Coursera to attract a larger number of participants, the report notes that even though enrollees are spread across different countries, “only a fraction of those who registered actually participated in the courses, and far fewer completed them.” Also, most enrollees are already “well educated, with only a small fraction of these participants fully engaged with the courses.” One barrier to access, says the report, is available infrastructure and internet bandwidth across cultures. Another barrier is that education “is more complex than simply providing access to content,” and pedagogy must also be considered.

Solutions: If the goal is to better democratize education, institutions must accurately document the level and diversity of participation in their program both before and after offering MOOCs, said the report. Institutions must also identify multiple channels of communication to reach potential recruits. For example, they may need to use social media networks and advertise through high schools, employment agencies, or community organizations in the U.S. and abroad. Accreditation agencies and state education departments must also review and revise regulations to accommodate online offerings that reach beyond local confines.

2. Goal: To build and maintain a brand. Institutions (41 percent) said that MOOCs, just like other branding, can serve to retain students, faculty members, and increase partnership opportunities with funders, other institutions, and alumni networks.

Accomplished? Currently unknown. The report’s participants said that many institutions are currently trying to determine how to measure MOOC’s branding effectiveness.

Solutions: Institutions are already starting to compare historical data on applications and admission with post-MOOC statistics. Institutions must also be aware of where the brand actually lies; for example, do participants opt for a course because it is on a particular platform or because it is offered by a particular university? The report notes that some participants said that “as MOOC platform providers such as edX and Coursera open their platforms to a wider range of institutions, some of the initial cachet of belonging to these consortia is being lost.”

(Next page: Reasons 3-6)