After a couple of years basking in the spotlight, the tide seems to have turned in MOOC-land. We seem to be heading for the dreaded trough of disillusionment.

Diana Laurillard, in Five myths about MOOCs, bursts some of the inflated claims made about MOOCs in recent months. The main point is that education is not mass production.

bursting-mooc-bubbleMOOCs offer a well-designed content package for self-study but providing thousands of students with qualified guidance and facilitation simply does not scale. Many MOOC providers are experimenting with peer learning, encouraging participants to give feedback to each other and assess each other’s work.

While it is true that more experienced students are able to provide competent peer review and assessment, this is not true of inexperienced learners unused to both higher education and the online environment. Students are not as self-sufficient as we sometimes imagine.

In reply to this it could be argued that many undergraduate campus courses are not so good at providing qualified feedback and face-to-face tuition.

All higher education requires the student to be highly self-sufficient and success depends very much on developing good peer networks for discussion and feedback. MOOCs of course take this self-sufficiency to an extreme.

However as the focus in education moves towards learning how to learn I believe we will certainly see future generations becoming more self-sufficient and better at peer learning. We aren’t there yet but that movement has already started.

“The simple fact is that a course format that copes with large numbers by relying on peer support and assessment is not an undergraduate education. Education is not a mass customer industry: it is a personal client industry. The significant initial investment required in the preparation of educational resources can be distributed over very large student numbers and repeated runs of the course, but education is fundamentally about learning concepts and skills that we do not acquire naturally through our normal interaction with the world. And this takes time. It requires personalised guidance, which is simply not scalable in the same way. This is what the private educational sector continues to ignore, and it is why every new idea for solving the problem of mass education with technology falls flat.”

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