Two avenues for reinventing MOOCs


When they first appeared in the 2010s, MOOCs raised a lot of hopes. From there to constituting a revolution in teaching, there is a step that has not been taken as already noted in 2018 in these columns Mathieu Cisel, teacher at CY University.

But containment has brought these tools back to light, reminding us of how beneficial it can be to master them. As proof, the number of searches on Google using the keyword MOOC doubled between mid-March and mid-June 2020 – before returning to the same level as in 2014.

This prompts us to think about new avenues for renewing MOOCs, in order to make better use of their potential. In this context, why not take inspiration from the popularity of tutorials and the progress of 3D printing?

On-demand training

Why are we talking about mixed success with MOOCs? The main argument is the lack of attention paid by the student to online courses. To quantify this attention, we define a retention rate, which corresponds to the ratio between the number of registrants and the number of students completing the training. For MOOCs, this rate is on average between 5% and 10%, knowing that students generally claim not to have found in the MOOCs followed the knowledge they were looking for.

MOOCs have been developed by higher education institutions for the general public, but their development is marked by the usual functioning of these institutions, imposing their synchronous logic – student support corresponds to defined time periods. Thus, on-demand training, outside the constraints of time and place – and which was presented as one of the major advantages of MOOCs – is lost.

Obviously, the development of these MOOCs has motivated a rise in higher education skills in terms of video content production and the creation of new interactive online tools. An effort accentuated recently by confinement, which has prompted the use of distance learning tools.

But it is clear that the investment necessary for their handling and their use is not negligible and this comes into conflict with the habits of teachers. So, how to restore the image of the MOOC?

Get inspired by tutorials

La jeune génération est unie par un réflexe commun : face à un problème technique, les étudiants ont tendance à se diriger vers les contenus vidéo, et les moteurs de recherche leur permettent d’accéder facilement à des tutoriels sur YouTube. On ne peut pas leur donner tort, sachant qu’il en existe aujourd’hui pour tous les problèmes auxquels vous pourriez penser. Et, dans beaucoup de cas, ces tutos jouissent d’une production d’une qualité excellente et sont animés par de jeunes vidéastes qui savent parfaitement rendre leurs contenus attractifs.

This attractiveness is not only of aesthetic interest: in addition to being able to more easily retain attention, it creates an emotional anchoring which allows better retention of knowledge. Another advantage of tutorials: they cover very specific subjects, are therefore very short and do not involve going through hours of video and text to arrive at the solution of the problem.

How to integrate what tutorials do best to make MOOCs more efficient? The constitution of libraries of video and interactive content is one way. It should allow the easy integration of this content into the training courses of the students, like the modules developed on by five schools, which can then draw from it the content necessary for their training plans.

It is in fact frequent that a “simple” technical skill is necessary at several points in the student’s course. For example, writing an octopus diagram. This technical skill must then be the subject of a “micro-MOOC” which can then be called upon whenever necessary in the student’s training course.

It is this form of micro-MOOC that now seems more suited to the needs and capacities of current audiences. In addition, the constitution of skills training plans, already well implemented in higher education institutions, greatly facilitates the constitution of these online content libraries by articulating each micro-MOOC around a specific skill.

As for attractiveness , it is not always easy to produce videos and interactive content in the face of competition from YouTube videographers. But the students have a role to play here, by remobilizing the tutoring systems: the good understanding of a theme or a method can be validated by the production of a video or an educational content that can be used by the other students.

The advantages of 3D printing

As expressed earlier, the synchronous logic applied to MOOCs is also a major obstacle. This choice is made, among other things, to simplify the evaluation methods by approaching face-to-face models: defenses, reports, reviews, peer evaluation, etc. But we could leave MOOCs this asynchrony they need by integrating them into training courses which themselves benefit from these methods of synchronous evaluations.

We would then have, on the one hand, the online content which is independent, where the students are in self-training and self-assessment, and, on the other hand, the complementary face-to-face content. It is this construction of hybrid training scenarios that will give back to MOOCs the importance they promised, by dividing them into precise micro-MOOCs and integrating them into the training courses of which higher education institutions are carrying.

To assess the acquisition of skills in an asynchronous course, we currently have few resources. But, in the case of engineering, 3D printing is a relevant avenue. In the same way that the verb crystallizes the thought, 3D printing can crystallize the competences and thus offer the student a more objective means of evaluating his achievements .

Indeed, what could be better than carrying out your digital design work to analyze your technical choices? With the system he designed in his hands, the student can easily point out what he has done right and what needs improvement. The rapid production of a design (called rapid prototyping) is common in businesses.

It is precisely for the same reasons that the 3D printed part will offer the student visibility to objectively self-assess by confronting his design ideas with the actual use of the finished part. This is the evaluation process that was put in place during the confinement for some of the future engineers of the EPF.

The other interest of 3D printing lies in the interactivity it offers to students taking the MOOC. A student can present the printed piece as well as their self-assessment, which the other students can then comment on, and possibly make improvements.

The constitution of libraries of short educational content with multiple uses is therefore a major challenge for education. And since these educational content can be used in all training courses, it is interesting for higher education establishments to cooperate on their constructions in order to maximize their added value.

Author Bios: Julien Gardan is Associate Professor-Researcher at UTT and EPF-UGEI at the University of Technology of Troyes, Arthur Gontier is an Educational coordination engineer – additive manufacturing at EPF – UGEI and Mahdi Chemkhi who is a Teacher-researcher at EPF engineering school and Associate researcher at UTT (LASMIS team) also at EPF – UGEI