RIDE2013 presentation: A puzzled look at MOOCs


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Presentation from 'Enhancing the student experience' strand at the CDE’s Research and Innovation in Distance Education and eLearning conference, held at Senate House London on 1 November 2013. Conducted by Ormond Simpson (HE consultant, Visiting CDE Fellow). Audio of the session and more details can be found at www.cde.london.ac.uk.

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  • I’d always had my doubts about some of the hype about e-learning but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that worried me. Then I realised that whoever had invented the term e-learning might have been guilty of what the philosopher Gilbert Ryle called a ‘category error’ – confusing two essentially different things. #
  • What distance education institutions are doing is actually ‘E-teaching’. ‘E-learning’ is what students are doing – we hope. It may be a mistake to confuse means with hoped-for ends. Of course I’m hardly the first person to think like this#
  • Paul Ramsden said this more cogently several years ago “No teacher can ever be certain that their teaching will cause a learner to learn” and there have been plenty of others who’ve said it before. So I began wondering what the evidence was that e-teaching was actually causing e-learning. I looked first of all at my old institution the Open University which has now gone over to e-teaching wholesale (the last-ever off-line course in the OU will finish next February). #
  • The average OU graduation rates in the 70’s and 80’s were about 53%. They are now around 22%. Now there are many reasons why graduation rates may have fallen but it does suggest that e-teaching has not yet done much to increase student success in the OU.In parentheses I should note that then OU itself has become something of a category error as a result of e-teaching.#
  • Nearly 20% of the UK population still have no internet access. That’s around 4 million households. So the Open University is now the ‘Half-Open University’. In any discussion of e-teaching and MOOCS we must bear in mind the effects of digital exclusion on this very considerable number of already educationally disadvantaged people. So finally what about MOOCS?#
  • These are the approximate course module completion (not graduation) rates for a variety of education institutions and MOOCS.The latest distance fashion the MOOCS – seem to have a success rate on individual courses of around 6%. Since a degree programme will consist of a number of course that could translate into a graduation rate of around zero. What this suggests to me is that no-one has yet found the way to build learning motivation into a MOOC. That’s the vital but missing ingredient#
  • 15. As Professor Anderson saidthat motivation was the key to student success and that if you got the motivation sorted, everything else would follow. To be successful in retaining its students MOOCS will have found a way to combine course materials with resources that keep students’ learning motivation switched on.But perhaps this low MOOC completion rate doesn’t matter. Because the future of MOOCS may be decided by another factor entirely.#
  • Money. Because there are interesting questions to be asked about who’s paying?#
  • Because MOOCS can be expensive – a million dollars for a simple math MOOC seems about right. I don’t know how much the OU is paying for its ‘Future learn’ project but it won’t be cheap. So who’s going to pay?Governments? – not too likely with completion rates so lowGrants from funders like Bill Gates? – again their enthusiasm may be low beyond pump primingIndustry – unlikely unless completion rates can be greatly improved in some way.Institutions themselves? – from where?#
  • It seems likely that institutions themselves will only fund MOOCS if they’re seen as recruitment exercises. Maybe that’s what the OU and other universities are hoping for with their FutureLearn programme.But the most likely source of funding will be#
  • The main funding in the end will come from students. One provider has already grasped this nettle – Coursera are proposing students fees of $30 to $80 per course.#
  • But if students are asked to pay fees they will want a qualification with a reasonable resale value and a fair chance of getting that qualification.Institutions will have to work their way through a ‘Value Triangle’#
  • I’ve been trying to put figures into the cost-benefits of investing in some kind of students support in various scenarios. So far I’ve got 10 pages of algebra like this most of which I no longer understand#
  • But one very tentative result I have for MOOCS suggests that if the institution spends £10 to increase retention amongst its students it will need that increase in retention to be around 8% points.I may be way out on this: it needs someone much better qualified to work through this kind of calculation to see what the real figures are. Dark and lonely work – but someone has to do it.#
  • So in the end what is the future for MOOCS? I don’t know. But I remember many years ago when I was a small boy in the early 50’s my mother spent money she could ill-afford on an encyclopaedia set. I was a very nerdy kid and I simple sat down and read my way through the whole set from ‘Aardvaak’ to ‘Zymosis’. As a result I now have an enormous fund of half-forgotten and hopelessly out-of-date general knowledge. For me Everest has yet to be conquered.May be that’s going to be the future for MOOCS – and not an ignoble one at that – as a kind of more structured Wikipedia .Thank you!
  • RIDE2013 presentation: A puzzled look at MOOCs

    1. 1. RIDE 2013 A puzzled person looks at MOOCS Ormond Simpson Visiting Fellow, Centre for Distance Education University of London Previously Visiting Professor, Open Polytechnic of New Zealand Previously Senior Lecturer in Institutional Research, Open University1
    2. 2. „E-learning‟ ? - a „category error‟? Gilbert Ryle 1900-76 2
    3. 3. „E-learning‟ ? or „E-teaching‟ ? 3
    4. 4. “No teacher can ever be certain that their teaching will cause a learner to learn” - Ramsden (2003) Professor Paul Ramsden 4
    5. 5. OU % graduation rates by year of entry 60 53 50 40 30 22 20 10 0 1971 1981 1997 on Beginning of introduction of e-teaching 5
    6. 6. Household internet access (ONS) 6
    7. 7. Completion rates for modules and MOOCS Average first year full-time undergraduate completion rate Average OU module completion rate (new students) Average MOOC completion rate 85% 55% 6 - 9% 7
    8. 8. Importance of learning motivation “The best predictor of student retention is motivation. Professor Edward Anderson 1942-2005 “…Most students drop out because of reduced motivation” (Anderson, San Diego, 2003) 8
    9. 9. The future of MOOCS? - will be decided by money 9
    10. 10. How will MOOCS be paid for? • Governments – why would they? • Grants from other bodies – pumppriming? • • Industry / commerce – for training? • Institutional own funding? 10
    11. 11. Institutions own funding • „loss leaders‟ to encourage recruitment? • „Tasters‟ for intending students to inform their course choice? 11
    12. 12. From student fees 12
    13. 13. Student self-funding But if students pay fees for a MOOC then: • they will want a qualification with a suitable resale value • A fair chance of getting that qualification 13
    14. 14. Funding MOOCS £ Fund student support Students willing to pay more Increases student retention 14
    15. 15. Cost benefits of retention If F = students fee per year, S = institutional expenditure per student, V = total institutional overhead then if the number of students in year 1 is N1 and in year 2 is N2 Income Year 1 = N1F – (N1S + V) Income Year 2 = N2F – (N2S + V) Reduction in income due to student dropout between years = N1F – (N1S + V) – [N2F – (N2S + V)] = (N1 – N2)(F – S) Then if there is a retention activity costing £P per student it will cost N1P. If that increases retention by n students so that N2 becomes N1 + n then the reduction in income is now: [N1 – (N2 + n)](F - S) So the reduction is itself reduced making a saving of (N1 – N2)(F – S) – {[N1 – (N2 + n)](F - S)} = n(F – S) For the retention activity to be self-supporting n(F – S) > N1P Or np > 100P/(F – S) where np is the per cent increase in retention For example P = £10 F = £2500, S = £1000 then np > 100x10/(2500-1000) = 0.67% So if a retention activity costing £10 per student produces an increase in retention of more than 0.67% it will be self-supporting 15
    16. 16. For a MOOC to make a profit it needs to ensure that: 1.25np > P or np > 0.8P where P is the cost of a retention activity that increases retention by np % points Thus for example if the institution expends £10 on an individual student it needs to get an increase in retention of 8% to break even. 16
    17. 17. 17