Online Courses are Different than MOOCs

Massive, open, online courses don’t live up to the hype. People are starting to realize that while MOOCs are open, and they are certainly massive, most of them are not actually courses. They are really just curated spaces where people can access content. They more closely resemble YouTube playlists or online textbooks than genuine, human learning environments. The drop-out rates are massively high because most MOOCs don’t follow the basic formula for learning.

That basic formula looks something like this: practice + feedback = learning. When a course is massive, instructors can’t give individualized feedback on student practice. Often, students aren’t required to practice much of anything, they are simply expected to consume information and remain isolated from their instructor.


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Consuming information is just the preamble to learning. MOOCs are essentially online spaces where students can consume information, the same way they they consume information from a textbook.  In other words, massive, open, online courses are just a preamble to learning. This is an example of a flawed design that threatens the promise of online teaching and learning.

So why are MOOCs dangerous? They are dangerous because they present a straw-man that critics can use to attack all online courses. They conflate two very different experiences and undermine quality online instruction. There is no reason that students can’t practice skills, apply information and receive quality feedback in an online course. With the right tools and thoughtful lesson design, online learning can be spectacular.

At VoiceThread, we believe that online courses can be about so much more than information consumption. They can be places where students can apply knowledge and engage instructor feedback in a real, human way. Online courses are different than MOOCs for just this reason. Let’s take the straw-man out of the conversation and change the narrative together.