Let us evaluate the quality of what we may consider a representative MOOC against the list of the characteristics of good online courses which we have offered previously.
1. A GOOD ONLINE COURSE IS COMPLETE, NOT JUST A GROUP OF COURSE MATERIALS
Many MOOCs are complete courses, but some are essentially a group of course materials, often gathered around a set of lectures but without connective elements.
2. A GOOD ONLINE COURSE HAS CONTENT THAT IS UP TO DATE, COMPREHENSIVE AND APPROPRIATE TO INSTRUCTOR AND STUDENT
Many MOOCs have up to date and comprehensive content, but the content may go far beyond the capabilities of instructors and students at many schools. Many MOOCs originate at top-level universities with content appropriate for the top one percent of college students in terms of academic preparation and intellectual ability. Schools most of whose students are of average preparation and ability and many of whom are working adults as well as students will find these courses unsuited to most of their students and faculty. The students cannot master the material and the faculty cannot teach it effectively. There is nothing wrong in this – students and faculty members come in different levels of preparation and ability and this is as it must be. But many MOOCs are simply unsuited for large student populations. Where course content is beyond the capability of students and instructors poor performance and frustration will result – neither is a good result for a school.
3. A GOOD ONLINE COURSE IS ENGAGING
The Internet provides an opportunity for interactive programming which can deeply engage students, similar to the engagement levels attained by computer games. But most MOOCs do not include such elements.
4. A GOOD ONLINE COURSE IS PROPERLY PACED FOR LEARNERS AND INSTRUCTORS
MOOCs are often paced at a level reflecting the abilities of students and instructors at top-ranked institutions. Such pacing is too rapid for students and instructors in lesser-ranked institutions who require more time to digest challenging content.
5. A GOOD ONLINE COURSE PERMITS INDIVIDUALIZED INSTRUCTION
Most MOOCs do not include individualized instruction software.
6. A GOOD ONLINE COURSE CAN BE TAUGHT ONLINE OR IN A CLASSROOM OR BOTH
The essential feature of most MOOCs is series of lectures. These lectures do not lend themselves to effective teaching in a classroom. Materials in an online course should permit an instructor who is not the author of the course to lecture about the content of the course, not preempt her or his lecturing. Most MOOCs preempt lectures and so are not suitable for classroom use.
7. A GOOD ONLINE COURSE MUST BE AVAILABLE ON MOBILE DEVICES
Most MOOCs are not yet available on mobile devices, something many students find valuable, especially non-traditional students who have jobs.
8. A GOOD ONLINE COURSE SHOULD UTILIZE NARRATIVE LEARNING
Most MOOCs utilize the lecture as the key instructional element and do not include narrative learning to any significant degree.
9. A GOOD ONLINE COURSE MUST PERMIT RELIABLE ASSESSMENT OF STUDENT OUTCOMES
MOOCs may permit reliable assessment if the appropriate exams, software and testing methods are included.
10. A GOOD ONLINE COURSE IS LINKED TO THE OLD SYSTEM OF PRINTED TEXT
Materials from MOOCs can often be successfully printed for student and others’ use.
11. A GOOD ONLINE COURSE IS PROPERLY PRICED
MOOCs currently appear to be free to a school using them as part of its curriculum. This is an advantage of MOOCs. However, the organizations which are providing and supporting MOOCs are trying very hard to discover ways to monetize MOOCs, so that it must be assumed that in some form or other schools using MOOCs will soon be required to pay for them. It should not be anticipated that organizations formed with private capital will fail to attempt to make a profit on the products and services, including MOOCs, which they provide. Nor should it be anticipated that universities, however well-funded they might appear, will indefinitely provide subsidies to other schools. Instead, both for-profit and not-for-profit providers of MOOCs will likely seek to monetize their intellectual capital investment in MOOCs. The current period in which MOOCs seem to be free will soon be seen to have been merely a short introductory period until a financial model can be developed by the providers of MOOCs. Then MOOCs will cease to have the financial advantage to schools that they today appear to have. The present low-cost of MOOCs will be recognized to have been of a transitional period.
12. A GOOD ONLINE COURSE DISPENSES WITH VIDEOS OF LECTURES
MOOCs make far too much use of videos of lectures. It’s an old style of teaching which has significant limitations and which fails to make use of the dramatic potential of the Internet for interactivity between student and instructor.
13. A GOOD ONLINE COURSE INCORPORATES ADAPTIVE LEARNING TECHNOLOGY
Adaptive learning technology can play a very significant role in improving student learning outcomes especially for students who are more challenged academically. Yet MOOCs generally do not include effective adaptive learning software.
In summary, our representative MOOC possesses only four of thirteen characteristics of good online courses.