What Future for MOOCs?

By Lori Breslow, Director, TLL

The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) held its annual meeting in Doha at the end of October (http://www.wise-qatar.org/content/wise-initiative).  WISE, founded by the Qatar Foundation in 2009, brought together 1,200 educators from 100 countries to focus on innovation both at the policy level and in the classroom.

As part of this year’s summit, I was asked to write a short commentary on the future ofMOOCs. (Although, in all honesty, I don’t think I know more than anyone else on how MOOCs will evolve.)  The conference organizers asked me to focus on the results of our research using the data generated by edX’s first MOOC, “Circuits and Electronics” (6.002x), and to speculate on what those findings might mean for teaching and learning.  As I reviewed our study, two thoughts came to mind.

First, I’ve been struck by how several of our findings confirm long-standing research in STEM education.  For example, we found a correlation between the amount of time 6.002x students spent on homework and their final score in the class—a classic example of the effect of time on task.  We also saw a mild correlation between participation in the discussion forum and final score, supporting the importance of interaction in learning.  But perhaps our most provocative finding is the correlation we found between higher scores and whether or not a student worked offline with someone else—whether that was with another 6.002x student or a teacher or expert in the field.

The results of the 6.002x study might lead to the conclusion that the future of MOOCs is in replicating traditional teaching or learning.  But another possibility—and one that I wrote about—is that we haven’t yet taken advantage of the full set of capabilities that MOOCs provide.  Just as early filmmakers turned the camera on stage plays and TV adopted, at first, the content of radio, MOOC developers and instructors, so far, are replicating the content and structure of on-campus courses.  But I predict that a new language of learning will yet be invented, and MOOCs will provide us with the impetus and technology to do just that.  For more information, see my full commentary for WISE on the future of MOOCs.