Are MOOCs The Right Choice For Adult Students?

For adult students looking to go back to college, massive open online courses, or MOOCS, might not be the best way to earn a degree. According to a report by the University of Pennsylvania and discussed in The New Republic, about 86 percent of MOOC students in the United States already have a degree and many enrollees view MOOCS as a diversion rather than as a means to a college degree or a new job.

MOOCs  are college-level classes open to anyone with an Internet connection. Typically, a MOOC has thousands or even tens of thousands of students in one class, and the students have no direct interaction with faculty members. MOOCs give underserved student populations access to some of the best faculty and colleges in the world. For example, EdX is a nonprofit created by Harvard and MIT. EdX offers online courses in many areas, including, law, history, science, engineering, and business. Public colleges and universities are also starting to run MOOCs.

We believe, at this time, MOOCS should be approached with a great degree of caution because they are still an unproven source of education. A study of a million users of MOOCS by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education found that, on average, only about half of those who registered for a course ever viewed a lecture, and only about 4 percent completed the courses. If 96 percent of all students who sign up for a MOOC are dropping out, this is a significant problem. Compare this rate to the less than 23 percent of freshman students who dropout, at four-year colleges, and MOOCs can be seen as being less than successful. Finally, most MOOCS do not give credit or a certificate of completion. In July, San Jose State University stopped offering MOOCs for credit because so few students passed the MOOCS that were offered. San Jose State found that in at least one MOOC less than 30 percent of students passed the course.

A recent Gallup survey of 889 college presidents found skepticism about MOOCs. Only 3 percent of college presidents believe that MOOCs will improve the learning of all students. Only 8 percent think that it will reduce the cost of education. Also, many experts believe that the biggest problem with MOOC's is that dropout rates are extremely high. Many MOOCs have dropout rates greater than 90 percent. A good example is a MOOC that Duke University recently offered in bioelectricity. Of 12,700 individuals who registered for the course, only 350 took the final exam. This equates to a 97 percent dropout rate. Nearly 5,000 individuals who registered for the course never even watched the first lecture.

Until recently, many of the best colleges and universities have offered MOOCs for free. However, these courses are not offered as degree programs but rather as stand- alone courses. That changed recently when Georgia Institute of Technology announced that it would offer a new MOOC master's degree in computer science, beginning in 2014, for $6,600. Compared with the $45,000 for out-of-state students or $21,000 for Georgia residents, the MOOC degree is a real bargain. Georgia Tech believes it will make up the revenue difference because of the class size of MOOCs.

The long-term forecast for MOOCs is not yet in. Although they offer a chance to learn from some stellar professors at little or no cost, they are not yet a way to earn an established degree.

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