Higher Ed Reform: Who Is It For?

And they are fundamentally asking not “is college worth it?” but “who should go to college among those in the bottom 50%?” and “what should we pay for those people to go?” Because if education cost nothing to provide, the question would be moot. In the 21st Century, it’s notable that these same curious people are not asking “Is high school worth it?” even though high school dropout remains a problem and of course it costs money to offer high school as well. What is so magical about the 12th year of education versus the 14th? Absolutely nothing. So why is “worthiness” asked of the 14th year? Because the country simply hasn’t gotten around to providing a free public option.

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The Problem of Audience in MOOCs

A few weeks ago, I delivered a webinar with colleagues on the design of MOOCs as part of a series, MOOCs by Design. The basic premise of our presentation is that the sheer diversity of the audience in MOOCs creates a number of design challenges.

When designing a “traditional” online credit course, certain assumptions can be made about the learners, no matter how diverse the student body, given the homogenizing effect of the application process, the incentives and costs associated with credit, and the standards of rigor and credentialing established by the disciplines. In contrast, learners in MOOCs undergo no such homogenizing process, and enter the experience with incredibly diverse educational backgrounds, English language proficiencies, access to technologies, and motivations. The diversity of MOOC learners create, then, a number of design challenges.

We suggest several ways to navigate those challenges in the presentation, with the overall guidance that it is best to design a MOOC oriented around the institutional priorities, but that affords as many options and pathways for students as possible.