Massive Open Online Courses: New trend may revolutionize Education

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The following is my final paper for my grad class: Current Issues and Trends in Education for the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

This was published on my blog before submission to the University. The goal of the paper was to mimic our text's style of Dialectic Reasoning, and my format reflects this.

Feel free to comment or critique in the comments. And, as time allows, I will try and hyperlink more within the story (most links can be found on the resources page).

Photo credit: Dale Edwin Murray for Waldrop's article in Nature.

Massive Open Online Courses:
New trend may revolutionize Education
Rob Lindquist
TED 8060
Current Issues and Trends
Final Paper


University of Nebraska at Omaha
Graduate Studies

The Next Chapter
Massive Open Online Courses:
New trend may revolutionize Education

Will the free online education format trickle to K-12 and change the way we evaluate what is learned?
Anyone is free to join, create, interact, analyze, and reflect according to his or her own learning needs.
-Apostolos Koutropoulos et. al, 2009.

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are just starting to make waves in post-secondary education. The product of a Stanford University team was started by professor Andrew Ng in 2007 when “his approach was fairly crude, he admits: just record the lectures, put them online and hope for the best” (Waldrop, 2013). Ng wanted to educate the masses. “When one professor can teach 50,000 people,” he says, “it alters the economics of education” (Waldrop, 2013).
Daphne Koller was a part of the team, and wanted to make the online learning more internalized for the learner. More than mere lectures, Koller wanted to mimic “flipping the classroom” and in her work in 2009, she started shortening video clips to 8-10 minute segments, allowing for reflection and giving time to answer questions given in the video.
With intrinsically motivated learners, it’s easy to see the benefits of MOOCs, and the opportunities for more learning. And the best part, you don’t need anything to join but an internet connection and the motivation to learn.

Modern education has not changed much since its current incarnation which was first established. To emphasize this point, one major piece of educational technology was the blackboard, which is still used to this day in my school. The blackboard was created by James Pillans in 1801.  And much to the same extent, the modern school student has changed only as much as the tools around him. It’s not to say that students aren’t more advanced than they previously had been, because there have been other tools that have obviously helped educators since the blackboard. But, there is an opportunity to introduce a new tool that can change the role of the learner even more so than a “flipped-classroom” or teacher role reversals to secondary students.
Students have the ability to connect on a larger scale (by definition) in a MOOC. Duke University researcher Randy Riddle (2012) notes
there’s nothing particularly new about MOOCs.  Most universities have offered online courses for many years and the basic technologies involved – video lectures, discussion forums, tests, and the like – are the same we have used with on-campus and distance students.  The only difference is the scale.”
The benefit for the student in this scenario is the opportunity to be a part of a community that connects with the learner on that particular subject, and it’s not a small community. Generally, MOOCs consist of at least 500 participants (Koutropoulos, et. al, 2009). On the larger side (as noted by Ng), there is potentially no limit to the maximum size of like-minded people; interested in the learning for the sake of learning.
The peer-evaluation form of assessment used in some courses allows for sharing of ideas and more in-depth learning (for both parties involved). The forum system utilized by Ng and Koller in late 2010 “let students vote items up or down, much like on the link-sharing website Reddit, so that the most insightful questions would rise to the top rather than being lost in the chatter” (Waldrop, 2013). MOOCs could, in essence, become an educationally-fueled social network rivalling today’s standards.

Some students don’t get the opportunities of others because of the luck of the draw. In his book, The Snowball, philanthropist Warren Buffett (2009) uses his “ovarian lottery” theory to explain that you get one ball, and you don’t know what you’re going to get. He goes on say that the luck of being born where and when you were helps set you on your path. My school is a low-income secondary school, where priorities are more with make sure siblings are healthy than education. The students didn’t have a choice as to what situation they were born into, and sometimes the can use some help.
At my school, there are credit recovery programs for students that miss for differing reasons. There are opportunities for credits for things such as core classes and even an online P.E. credit recovery class. And here is where we can introduce MOOCs to students. We can give students an opportunity to learn with others, from all over the world, some of the basic concepts and skills needed from a massive, open platform, at a time and pace that student can manage. Completion of the massive courses could translate directly into the core class material and eventually, possibly, into a certificate similar to a GED, if not a high school diploma.
The design of the course would have to revolve around ease of use and accessibility as well. Some students in my school do not have access to the internet at home, but from a purely observational standpoint, at least two-thirds of my students do have access to a mobile device that has access.
The students in this type of MOOC would revolutionize their curriculum as well. As the Common Core is being established for U.S. students, a common curriculum for “graduation” from these courses could be easily derived, with modifications and different channels of learning dependent on a choice of post-secondary plans. It might be scary to think about how many educated people could be walking around without a piece of paper that signifies completion; the reason for completion of the MOOC isn’t for the physical paper, but for the knowledge gained to better the post-secondary life of the learner.

Don't ever email the professor. Never friend the teacher on Facebook. Those are some of the rules A.J. Jacobs learned when he joined the ranks of millions enrolled in massive open online courses, MOOCs.
- Jennifer Ludden, host of NPR’s Talk of the Nation, 2013.

One of the many flaws of Massive Open Online Courses is the verification of learning. With relative ease to sign up for a course, anybody can participate in almost any topic they want. And with the lack of accountability and no academic credit currently given, MOOCs are left with professors pleading to students not to cheat.
“Students taking free online courses offered by the startup company Coursera have reported dozens of incidents of plagiarism, even though the courses bear no academic credit” (Young, 2012). This led to Coursera adding a non-plagiarism message to their courses.
At the secondary level, the honor system can’t be the only way to curb cheating. If MOOCs move into the realm of awarding credit (as stated above in the form of GED or graduation credit) then procedures will have to be in place to thwart dishonesty.
Even with a tool, such as Turn-it-in, a for-profit tool my district is utilizing primarily in English core classes, the cost of implementing and verifying for the masses would be detrimental to the whole idea of the learning format. And there are too many opportunities for dishonesty that can go unchecked in order for completion status of the program.

Self-reported retention rates are generally low for MOOCs. “Yes. Granted, my retention rate was low, and I can’t think of any huge practical applications for my newfound knowledge” (Jacobs, 2013). He continues that a “classmate” of his “told me he’s planning to include the course on his résumé, I probably won’t go that far,” presumably because of the lack of proof that anything was learned.
Koutropoulos, et. al, (2009) point out that a majority of their participants could have just been “window shopping” or lurkers, those that are following along and digesting knowledge, but not actively participating during the interactive portions of the course.
Because of the initial phases of the format and the variables involved, there isn’t a systematic way to know if the small percentage of those completing the courses are retaining the information gained, and in turn, using the knowledge in a productive way (if that was, in fact, the goal of the learner). Pair this with a lack of student-teacher interaction, and the ability to quantify is nearly non-existent at this point.
The true test of retention will be when a student (like Jacobs’ classmate) does get a job in a field relative to the course, and the knowledge is put to use. Will the skills or information be readily recalled or utilized?

High school students, nationally, completed high school with only a 7% drop out rate in 2010 (US Dept. of Education, 2012). In some schools, particularly urban schools with high-poverty rates, the number increases. The four-year graduation rate for my district was 81.51% for the 2011-2012 school year (Coffey, 2013). And, the rate of students who complete a massive open online course rarely rises above 15% (Waldrop, 2013).
In a study done with Coastline Community College in Fountain Valley, California “students who dropped or failed a course were more likely to believe [distance learning] courses were easier than campus-based classes. This suggests the need to manage student expectations about this mode of learning, especially for those new to the format” (Nash, 2005). These students tended to rank themselves lower in management skills as well. In this case, when given the opportunity to work at their own pace, self-direction and motivation were lacking.
This is a phenomenon talked about by many in education. While resources are available, no matter the time or resources available, sometimes the student just isn’t motivated. Sometimes teachers are the same way. When talking about motivation to Devin Schoening, I talked about needing classrooms to be “differentiated; make it something they want to do. Look at the possibilities and what this could be” (Schoening, 2013). If we are able to keep students interested at their level, they will find more relevance, thus helping to keep motivation to complete the course.

Coffey, A. (2013, March 3). Bluffs schools: Hard work led to higher graduation rate. Omaha World Herald. Retrieved from
Koutropoulos, A.; Gallagher, M.; Abajian, S.; de Waard, I.; Hogue, R.; et al. (2012). Emotive Vocabulary in MOOCs: Context & Participant Retention. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. 1: 23.
Ludden, J. (Performer) (2013). Making the most of moocs: The ins and outs of e-learning [Radio series episode]. In Talk of the Nation. Washington, D.C.: NPR. Retrieved from
Nash, R. (2005). Course completion rates among distance learners: Identifying possible methods to improve retention. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 8(4). Retrieved from
Riddle, R. (2012, September 17). [Web log message]. Retrieved from
Schoening, D. (Producer), & Lindquist, R. (Producer) (2013, April 25). Connecting in the classroom, CBTechPodcast. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from
Schroeder, A. (2009). The snowball: Warren buffett and the business of life. (1st ed.). New York: Random House.
Waldrop, M. (2013). Online learning: Campus 2.0. Nature,495(7440), 160-163. Retrieved from
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). The Condition of Education 2012 (NCES 2012-045), Indicator 33.
Young, J. (2012, August 16). Dozens of plagiarism incidents are reported in coursera's free online courses. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Rob Lindquist


I do a lot of things. The best thing I do is fathering (I think). I'm the ol' "Jack of all trades, Master of none." I teach aspiring journalists. I run. I play guitar(s). I also host a running podcast. Oh, and I dabble in drawing. And I dabble in authoring... children's books no less. I just dabble. Sometimes I ramble.


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