Online Education Is Harder Than It Looks

February 4, 2013

Today’s guest blog post is from Michael Walsh, senior manager of corporate communications, who shares his thoughts on MOOCs and online education:

Michael Walsh, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications

Michael Walsh, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications

“Here we go again.” That was my first thought when I read the article today in Inside Higher Ed titled “MOOC Mess.”If you haven’t read the news, apparently a course offered by the MOOC Coursera called “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application” was suspended after it essentially crashed, primarily because of the use of Google Docs for group discussions (as the article states, sending more than 40,000 users to a Google doc with a limit of 50 simultaneous editors is not a good idea). And based on the reaction on social media, the irony of an online course – on online education – crashing has not been lost on the public.

Now don’t get me wrong. The whole MOOC movement is exciting, and represents the type of innovation and bold thinking traditional higher education needs more than ever. But here’s the problem: (once again) in a rush to be innovative and adapt traditional courses for the Internet as fast as possible, a hard-learned lesson has been ignored: getting online education right is really hard work, very complicated, and takes years to perfect. At Capella, it’s all we’ve been doing for 20 years. And as good as we have gotten at it, it didn’t happen overnight.

Beyond just the technical issues of making sure your students can effectively access their courses online, there is the even more important task of collecting, analyzing and leveraging data about how those students are performing in their courses, how they can be assisted to improve on that performance, and how to take the lessons learned from their experiences to develop even better courses in the future.

So are we likely to hear more about another MOOC or some other new player in the online education world having an embarrassing crash on takeoff? Probably. Should they stop doing what they are doing? No. We need this sort of entrepreneurial thinking, but it needs to be tempered by carefully thought-out planning, and learning from those who’ve been in this space a long time. Online education is convenient, but it sure isn’t easy.

What do you think? Is the pace at which the MOOCs are moving too quick, or not quick enough?

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