Massive open online courses (MOOCs) in perspective

12 April 2018

The International Review of Education – Journal of Lifelong Learning (IRE) has just released a special issue on massive open online courses (MOOCs). Edited by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) and published by Springer, this issue highlights both the potential of MOOCs and the challenges which have emerged from their development. The contributors address specific, action-oriented pedagogical questions while drawing out connections to key issues in the philosophy of education.

Opportunities and challenges of MOOCs

Contributions to this special issue consider both the potential of new technology and the challenges for its use.

Jeremy Knox argues that the role of technology in learning processes is under-examined, warning of a lack of transparency in the processes through which learner groups are categorized, teacher decisions are made and learning is processed. Providers need to better reveal the components of their algorithms and collaborate more with MOOC teachers, who need to be more vigilant and critical of these algorithms.

Mie Buhl, Lars Birch Andreasen and Karanam Pushpanadham demonstrate that new conditions for designing learning processes apply to MOOCs. These, they argue, are characterized by a fragmentation of the teacher’s function, with activities formerly under the remit of the teacher now performed by different actors with different areas of responsibility. Giving up the holistic idea of the teacher’s cohesive role, suitable for traditional education, is the price to be paid for the ability to upscale education to a MOOC format.

Inés Gil-Jaurena and Daniel Domínguez report on their empirical study of teachers of institutionally driven MOOCs provided by a Spanish distance education university, complementing their findings with a theoretical examination of current discussions of conditions for teachers’ new roles. Having already switched to teaching e-learning courses a few years ago, their interviewees regard MOOCs as experimental settings. This article corroborates the previous article’s idea that collaborative teams are needed for designing and implementing MOOCs.

Looking at MOOCs from the students’ perspective, Bjarke Lindsø Andersen, Jaitip Na-songkhla, Cathrine Hasse, Norazah Nordin and Helmi Norman discuss the often-overlooked cultural dimension of providers’ attempts to offer global education solutions, highlighting the potential to give preference to participants from certain cultural lifeworlds. Drawing on an explorative study of approaches to learning activities in a selected MOOC, they show the different concerns learners have when engaging in a learning environment.

Finally, one of the crucial challenges of MOOCs is how to assess students’ learning. Yao Xiong and Hoi K. Suen examine possible methods of assessment, discuss assessment security and analyse various relevant assessment formats such as discussion sessions, automated feedback, multiple-choice quizzes, expert assessment and – in their view the most promising – peer assessment.

The adaption of traditional teaching and learning practices to massive education, the main characteristic of MOOCs, is an ongoing process.

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