MOOCS, online learning, and the wrong conversation

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The fact that MOOCS and online courses have sparked new conversations on your campus about teaching and learning is a terrific development. We should be grateful whenever attention is paid to teaching.

The problem is that neither MOOCS or online courses are, in themselves, a strategy to meet the challenges we all face in higher ed. MOOCS and online courses are a means, not an end, and should be understood as such.

The real conversation that you should be having on campus is about your institutions’ goals around teaching and learning.

Simply grafting a MOOC or an online program or online course on to the existing structure of course development and delivery will prove to be an inadequate an ineffective response to the changing higher ed market.

This does not mean that your institution should not contemplate your own MOOC, or begin your own online programs. Rather, these steps should be taken as part of a larger strategic plan to re-orient your school to face the challenges and embrace the opportunities of the new higher ed marketplace.

Step one is to identify the areas or scholarship that your faculty do better than anyone else.

The goal of your MOOC should not be a maximum numbers of students but maximum comparative advantage.

You don’t need to have a top 20 higher ed brand to offer the world’s best open online course in the subject in which your faculty are world leaders.

Identifying your area of distinction will lead to a number of positive results. Investments and resources should flow to strengths. A MOOC might be a great way to market and share what your campus is best at.

A full online program, one that leads to a degree and commands a regular tuition, should also be under consideration.

The beauty of online (or blended) programs is that demand can be aggregated across geography and type of student.

A full-time working adult student living in Asia may be very interested in your specialized degree, as she has been looking for just such a program to advance her career. She cannot move full-time to your campus, or stop work to enroll in your program, but she will pay your tuition if your program is both specialized for her needs and is of high quality.

The right conversation to have on your campus is how you plan to invest in areas of strength and distinction. How you are going to “double down” on investing in your faculty in departments and disciplines in which you are well known? What sort of investments in educational professionals, such as learning designers, librarians, media specialists and technologists, are necessary to provide resources for faculty in the creation of high quality blended and online programs?

Can your campus find ways to lower costs in other places in order to invest in faculty and the educational professionals necessary for the development of MOOCS, blended and online courses? Can the costs of administrative computing tasks, such as e-mail or storage or backups or even SIS systems, be shifted from fixed to variable? From high-cost local enterprise to low-cost consumer cloud services? Can new revenues from new online/blended programs and for-profit/non-profit partnerships be directed to core areas of strength in research, scholarship, and teaching?

Where are your institution’s strengths?

What do you want to be known for?

Where have your faculty made a name for themselves in research and in global conversations?

Can you use MOOCS to grow awareness of your strengths?

Can you use blended and online learning to aggregate demand for degree programs in your specialization?

Can you find mechanisms to invest in faculty, scholarship, courses, and teaching and learning?

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