Digging into MOOC Mania: One Investor's Key Research Questions and Approach

Summary of a presentation from Stacey L. Clawson, Anh Nguyen, Gates Foundation

(Stacey) MOOCs are one of the trends that are top of mind for institutional leaders.

Institutions are pursuing MOOCs for a variety of reasons: to increase brand, to improve completion, to understand their effect on teaching and learning, and to understand their impact on the business model itself, to address bottleneck issues, etc.

Why do we (Gates Foundation) care about this? MOOCs can potentially be a tool or tactic to improve learning. And we believe MOOCs have been a really interesting resource to catalyze other conversations, about quality, about accountability, etc.

(Anh) The Gates Foundation is interested in serving low-income first-generation children, and we see MOOCs as a catalyst for change, and though they haven’t reached that population, we do see light, eg. San Jose using MOOCs as wrap-around support. So we’re looking at how we can use MOOCs to drive adoption, especially in blended-learning approaches.

We’re also looking at use cases in efficacy and cost savings, to take those learnings and feed them back.

Some of the questions we’re looking at are on the slide.

We plan to announce a MOOC research grant. We want to encourage a wealth of different kinds of small action-oriented iterative projects that can help and bring out and make more visible the learnings and share those out.

(Stacey) the learning is not just about the media comparisons – there are a lot of online learning environments – we don’t want to do comparisons of the platforms only, much more important, we want to understand, how are students learning – that can involve platform features, but also pedagogies and different kinds of learning strategies. These are the same kinds of questions we have been asking about online learning but now we have a broader platform to do that on.

Question: Does the Gates foundation fund X?

Response: It really depends on the grant. (Generic Q&A to cover several questions)

Question: How does the Gates Foundation feel about the selection of only certain educators as the rock stars of future MOOC offerings?

Response *Stacey): does there need to be 5,000 intro to biology courses? Probably not. Just five? Probably not. So we’re trying to understand just what the market it, at some point it will settle, but why are they rock star professors, and what do we know about their teaching and learning, and are the rock stars in the classroom effective in the online environment.

Question: Not having MOOC sites mobile ready is very limiting, any thoughts on that?

Response (Anh): we know the importance of that, but we don’t have a research project with this in mind, but through our research grants we encourage those sorts of research questions. (Stacey) it revolves around how those MOOCs are being used, eg., the broadcast MOOC, a significant number of those educated have access to the device, at least in the US (our work is pretty domestic in nature), and much of our work is in this blended format, and in those instances the students have access to broadband and a computer. Some research suggests students prefer less that videos are available and more that the assessments available on mobile.

Question: is part of the Gates research agenda about finding a business model for MOOCs to deliver learning at scale.

Response (Anh): the short answer is yes. Why wouldn’t we look at this, to challenge current assumptions and policies? It’s part of all our responsibilities.

Question: How do you work with the NIH here syndrome faculty often take in adopting material developed elsewhere?

Response (Stacey): we don’t have a great answer to that. Many grants are focused on courseware and online learning tools. Some were required to apply as consortia to address the not-invented-here (NIH) problem. We’re also seeing some natural cohorts form. Eg. The institutions called ‘Completions by Design’, community colleges, particularly for low-income adults.

(SD - to me MOOCs allow us to move away from "the best lecturer from here, the best content from there, the best facilitators from here, the best mentors" and move toward access and availability - we don't need 'best', we need accessible - we don't need the 'expert', we just need someone who knows how, who knows the answer)

Question: do you see MOOCs as being more disruptive in publishing than in teaching?

Response (Anh): that’s really a question about online learning in general, but MOOCs give us an opportunity to examine that. From a market perspective, online learning has been disruptive of the publishing market, but those publishers are responding, so I think we’re all responding and changing. But the pedagogy question is a different one, it related to how we design, and I hope the research we’re doing, that we’ll learn more about that.

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