MOOCs Are No Education Panacea, but Here's What Can Make Them Work

Tim Goral's picture

Everyone’s talking about massive open online courses, or MOOCs. The popular wisdom is that they will revolutionize higher education, and possibly even put traditional colleges and universities out of business. But MOOCs aren’t likely to solve the fundamental student learning challenges that colleges and universities face, and they certainly won’t take the place of a college education.

With the potential to host tens of thousands of students in a single course, MOOCs make lots of content available to lots of people. But a college education is about much more than just content, much of which will be out of date in a few years. With unemployment rates and salary levels correlating almost perfectly to education levels, the true challenge facing higher education, whether online or on campus, is helping students to successfully complete college degree programs.

Growing numbers of people are looking for alternatives to the traditional college experience. Online education offers tremendous opportunities. But we cannot mislead students into thinking that getting a college education is as easy as downloading a song from iTunes.

MOOCs have an enormous dropout rate, in some cases as high as nine out of 10 students. That’s fine when classes are free and students have nothing to lose by signing up and dropping out. But degree-granting institutions have to take a different approach. Over the next decade, more than 60% of all new jobs will require a college education, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. It is imperative that we offer the support structures that will help students learn and obtain degrees.

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