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The maturing of the MOOC: Literature review of Massive Open Online Courses and other forms of online distance learning
Haggard, Stephen · The Centre for Distance Education (CDE) [corporate] · The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) [corporate]

PublishedSeptember 2013
PeriodicalPages 1-123
PublisherDepartment for Business Innovation & Skills
CountryUnited Kingdom

Executive Summary
This survey of MOOC and ODL literature aims to capture the state of knowledge and opinion about MOOCs and ODL, how they are evolving, and to identify issues that are important, whether consensual or controversial.

The headlines

Conflicting perspectives on MOOCs divide education communities

Elite institutions in The Academy, primarily leading US universities, are widely engaging enthusiastically in MOOCs by lending brand, content, funds, staff, badging and policy support. They see opportunities for brand enhancement, pedagogic experimentation, recruitment and business model innovation. (A few have actively disengaged (Duke, Amherst) but these are a minority.) The pro-MOOC impetus is producing a conspicuous literature. It reports positively on these experiments, describing a process of maturing, expansion and deepening. There are dissident voices in the elite institutions, however, and the arguments they are assembling against MOOCs remain strong and vocal.

Smaller or less prestigious institutions have not so far engaged strongly with MOOCs, either through lack of appetite, lack of capacity, or lack of opportunity. Often, smaller players who have considered the MOOC issue have sounded alarm bells – they see threats of being left behind, of losing market share and recruits. They also charge that MOOCs are unable to serve learners with more complex learning needs. Although such perspectives would appear to represent the position of the vast bulk of post-16 educational activity, the sceptical literature reflecting these concerns is less visible and less extensive.

Learning Practitioners disagree about the value of MOOCs

Learning practitioners have engaged by contributing extensive critical review literature in peer-reviewed journals, the specialist educational press, blogs, and the general media. Two conflicting strands of opinion run in the critical practitioner literature.

1. A strand of enthusiasts welcomes the shake-up and energy MOOCs bring to learning, teaching and assessment. They report positively on learning experiences and innovative formats of pedagogy, and spotlight themes such as access, empowerment, relationship building and community. This strand is particularly prevalent in the general press. Examples include Shirky and Legon.
2. A strand of sceptics tempers the general enthusiasm along two themes:
 The supposed benefits of MOOCs were already realised in previous generations of ODL innovation – and the innovations of MOOCs are the victory of packaging over content
 The MOOC format itself suffers from weaknesses around access, content, quality of learning, accreditation, pedagogy, poor engagement of weaker learners, exclusion of learners without specific networking skills.

Formal comprehensive analyses of MOOCs mostly concur that they are disruptive and possibly threatening to current HE models

National and international authorities, research brands, think tanks and professional bodies have actively commissioned formal expert appraisals and overviews of MOOCs. There is often a brief to explore issues of national strategic importance. The focus of these overviews is more the Universities, than the learners.

This literature, typically more impartial and comprehensive than the other types, tends to acknowledge (with a few exceptions) that MOOCs bring an impetus of reform, research and innovation to the Academy. All reports foresee dramatic imminent change as a result. Some suggest, however, that the MOOC proposition lacks novelty, and the scale of MOOC impact, along with its potential to transform Universities, may be over-hyped. This literature detects failings in the MOOC format around sustainability, quality, equality, equity, financial viability, learning quality and accreditation. However, it also reports initiatives to address them, and consistently identifies MOOCs as a tipping point for HE.

Reporting of MOOC learner experiences is positive

Learners who have completed MOOCs emerge from the literature as relatively enthusiastic about the MOOC format. Different kinds of learner experience have been identified, and passive consumption or lurking in a MOOC is a common pattern. The consensus is growing that lurking and auditing have validity as a learning activity within MOOCs, and that non-completion is not a significant problem in this learning format. The benefits of MOOCs to learners come in the form of access to high quality material, and new kinds of collaborative learning experiences in some types of MOOC. Most studies show that the MOOC experience demands skill and aptitude in online social networking, and that these baseline capabilities are not widely enough shared for MOOCs to present a realistic format for many learners. Credit does not appear to be a major motivation for learners who have chosen MOOCs so far; however, there are clear signs that this will change.

The MOOC is maturing – and engaging with its business and accreditation issues

The Burning Issue in the MOOCosphere is the search for business models – and all the associated sub-issues of scale, sustainability monetisation, accreditation for MOOC learning and openness. Our report focuses in depth on analysis of this topic in the literature. The survey suggests that after a phase of broad experimentation, a process of maturation is in place. MOOCs are heading to become a significant and possibly a standard element of credentialed University education, exploiting new pedagogical models, discovering revenue and lowering costs.

Literature Summary - see full report

Keywords government policy · literature review · MOOC · white paper

Published atLondon
Rights© Crown copyright 2013 Open Government Licence
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