Higher Education in the Digital Age: MOOCs – Insidious Threat or Incredible Breakthrough?
Massive online open courses (MOOCs) are threatening to knock higher education off its traditional autonomous hill with a far more flexible and accessible learning mode than anyone could ever imagine. The stakes are high and outcomes are unknowable during this early era of experimentation. I recently talked with Michael Nanfito, Executive Director of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), who was kind enough to share his thoughts on how MOOCs could transform the learning environment.
Similar to many in education and industry leaders, Nanfito is convinced that people will find value in this new mode of educational delivery. “Distributed learning and open educational resources give young people an unprecedented ability to easily travel widely in the pursuit of learning, and they’ll come to expect that flexibility from higher education. If we don’t modify and adapt, then instead of opening up the student’s world after high school, they’ll go to college and find an environment that’s more rigid,” he said.
Nanfito also believes that MOOCs sponsored by private business, such as SAP, will impact higher education. “There are interrelationships between what we do on college campuses and what happens out in society. We can learn from what companies like SAP is doing. There are partnerships waiting that haven’t been explored yet.”
Indeed, SAP didn’t know what to expect when it launched its first MOOC earlier this year, “Introduction to Software Development on HANA. But with over 40,000 registered students from 158 countries who watched 500,000 video lectures, completed 500,000 self-tests, and submitted 70,000 assignments, SAP considers the pilot an unequivocal success. In fact, the course’s 30 to 60 percent completion rate was five to seven times higher than the completion rates of academia MOOCs which average six to eight percent. Click here for more details including student feedback.
The second open SAP MOOC entitled, “Introduction to Mobile Solution Development,” runs from September 9 through October 28, 2013. Aimed at mobile software developers, it will teach participants how to develop applications for SAP Mobile solutions that give companies and their employees secure anytime, any device access to information.
Whether sponsored by institutions or companies, MOOCs offer an affordable alternative to traditional learning platforms. While numerous large, well-known institutions like Harvard, M.I.T., and CalTech are making significant investments in MOOCs, fewer small colleges have taken the plunge. Nanfito thinks that this needs to change. NITLE is actively fostering productive, but often hard conversations with campus leadership to help them make strategic decisions around integrating teaching with technology. “Even if a school never offers a MOOC, they won’t escape the challenges and opportunities of MOOCs because they’re now part of the fabric of higher education. When families are financially challenged, alternatives become very important. Families will make decisions based on emerging opportunities, and that impacts every school.”
MOOCs hold the promise of more affordable, accessible, and faster education. They are also disruptive to the business of education. Nanfito thinks colleges need to be part of the decision-making process as government and corporations fund education that includes MOOCs. He doesn’t think every MOOC needs to be massive, especially for smaller institutions. Being open and online may be enough. But what’s most important is acting on a global mindset. “Small colleges need to connect with other institutions abroad as well as corporate programs across industries such as engineering, business, and medical.”
At the end of the day, everything comes down to global interconnectivity. Students are already there and schools must follow suit.
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