I recently attended a talk sponsored by Penn State's new Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The speaker was Ray Schroeder, from the University of Illinois, Springfield. Ray used his website as the anchor for the presentation, taking the audience to several different MOOC providers as well as illustrating the various models employed by MOOC providers like Coursera and Udacity.
During Ray's talk, a few interesting thoughts came to mind. Ray started out by discussing the promise of MOOCs. Essentially, the MOOC model might be a way to deliver educational content an an affordable price, of high quality, and accessible anywhere with an Internet connection. He talked about traditional models, and how most traditional models can only get two of these three criteria right. One example is that a student can likely take an online course anywhere with an Internet connection that is high in quality, but likely not very affordable. This reminds me of the triple constraint, a project management concept that deals with a project's timeline, cost and scope. From a project management standpoint, it's very challenging to manage a project that's completed quickly (timeline), cheap in cost and large in scope.
Schroeder emphasized that the current trend of rising tuition coupled with the decline in average family income is simply not a sustainable model for higher education. Will MOOCs play a role in defraying the cost of higher education? Possibly. Another interesting anecdoate Ray shared dealt with a recent visit to the Gate's foundation. Most academics in attendance, when asked what employers look for in graduates, cited things like critical thinking and problem solving. They then had a panel with HR representatives at large, United States-based companies talking about what they are seeking from recent college graduates. These companies cited very specific skillsets, such as accounting, java programming, .NET programming and so on. Again, Schroeder theorized that MOOCs might help play a role in helping some of the country's largest companies find skilled employs to fill many of these skill-based jobs.
COIL plans on hosting more guest speakers in the spring and I look forward to continued engaging discussions around various online learning topics and how they might apply to Penn State.