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Goodwill MOOCs Surpass All Others for Enrollment. Why? They Provide What THEIR Customers Need: Job Training

March 2, 2019 Comments off

Many education writers and bloggers, including yours truly, have predicted that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) would someday replace the traditional post-secondary offerings, But like many others, I was completely surprised to read that Goodwill— yes, THAT Goodwill that sells used clothing— has the second most robust MOOC program in the world! Why? Because while start-ups like Udacity, edX and Coursera all fought over the traditional post secondary market, Goodwill seized the larger and more urgent market: those seeking fundamental job skills. As Brandon Busteed of Forbes writes:

…there’s good reason to believe it could quickly surpass all MOOCs in total users.  Why?  It’s simple.  Goodwill got the premise right.  And that premise is all about jobs.  It’s providing the education and skills that help move people from unemployed to employed, from a low-paying job to a higher-paying one, from a bad or average job to a good job.

And in our country, unemployed and under-employed workers all agree that getting a job that pays well and offers benefits is the way to get off the treadmill of pointless and low-paying work… and that getting job skills is essential to securing a better job! And the good news from my perspective as one who sees the world through the lens of social justice, Goodwill, unlike its competitors, is not interested in profit:

Goodwill’s entire focus, though, is a market of people who arguably have both the highest degree of motivation and the least means of accomplishing their goals.  Their model may be the ultimate application of the MOOC educational model – free courses for those who desperately want jobs and can’t afford to pay for education or training.  If Goodwill and its donors and partners can find ways to sustain offering their courses for free to those who need them most around the world, they will most certainly become the world’s biggest MOOC.

I wish them well, and hope that the Federal government, who seems to feel free to bail out and /or support profiteering private post-secondary schools, might find a way to support Goodwill’s MOOCs.

MOOCs To Date: Minuscule not Massive, and NOT Broadening Opportunity

December 21, 2015 Comments off

As one who believes that access to computers is a social justice issue and on-line learning might provide equity of opportunity, I was dismayed to read two recent articles on the state of Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs.

Earlier this month, Sindya N. Bhanoo, a writer for the NYTimes, reported on a study by John D. Hansen,  a doctoral student at Harvard who found that the majority of those taking advantage of Harvard’s MOOC offerings came from affluent neighborhoods, which was not the target audience.

“Just because it is free and available online, it does not necessarily mean that the chief beneficiaries or users are going to be the less advantaged,” Mr. Hansen said.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported on the experience Georgia Tech is having with its MOOCs, and they are finding that students are taking longer to complete the on-line programs and the demographic of those taking the courses is not what Georgia Tech anticipated:

Nearly 80% of students in the online program are from the U.S., with many already employed. The campus-based program, meanwhile, overwhelmingly attracts international students who move to Atlanta and enroll full-time.

But like the campus version, the online degree still skews heavily male and has a small share of under represented minorities. Mr. Isbell said Georgia Tech is becoming more “intentional” about attracting women to help diversify the talent pipeline.

While MOOCs are providing a low-cost alternative means of attaining a degree, they are not graduating as many students as hoped for nor are they attracting  wider demographic, which was another anticipated result.

The Wall Street Journal headline for it’s article is “Online Degree Hits Learning Curve”. Time will tell whether it is hitting a wall.

The MOOCs Haven’t Materialized… Yet…

September 2, 2015 Comments off

Education technology writer Audrey Watters’s post “The MOOC Revolution that Wasn’t” in The Kernel” provides a comprehensive analysis of how Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, have not materialized and have, consequently, failed to deliver the promised inexpensive and equitable post-secondary education that led the NYTimes to declare 2012 “The Year of the MOOC”. While yesterday’s post links to an article by Julia Freedland that would beg to differ, and the nascent trend of unbundling higher education might make MOOCs as originally conceived immaterial, Watters examines the original promise of MOOCs versus the outcomes delivered and finds only disappointment. For example:

  • The pass rates are embarrassingly low. “…the average completion rate (for MOOCs) still hovers around 15 percent, a level that would be unacceptable for a traditional face-to-face college class.” 
  • The successful students were mostly college graduates. “…when the demographics of “successful” MOOC students were scrutinized in one University of Pennsylvania study, it was discovered that 80 percent already had college degrees. Rather than providing opportunities for the educational “have-nots,” MOOCs seem just as likely to further the opportunities of the educational “have-alreadys.” “
  • Start ups flopped. Highly touted Udacity’s program, a partnership with San Jose State University, which was “…hastily assembled” had an abysmal pass rate. “While the pass rate in a traditional, face-to-face SJSU class is 74 percent, “no more than 51 percent of Udacity students passed any of the three classes,” Inside Higher Ed reported. (Consequently) The partnership between SJSU and Udacity was scrapped.” 
  • The ultimate goal of MOOCs, it appears, was the creation of entry level jobs for computer science. Sebastian Thrun, one of the early champions of MOOCs, predicted that within 50 years they would eliminate all but ten colleges. Now? “The latest tagline used by Thrun to describe his company: “Uber for Education.” …and as Watters wryly notes, “…the analogy “Uber for Education” conjures… piecemeal work… it’s contingent and low-paid and unreliable work.” And Thrun’s new MOOC paradigm, according to Watters is based on this premise: Rather than education for all, MOOCs now merely promise education for employability. 

Could MOOCs ever realize the promise they showed three years ago? Not if we accept the world as it is now… the world Thrun and his tech billionaires see this way:

The San Jose State pilot offered the answer. “These were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives,” he says. “It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit.” 

So… rather than provide support to federal, state, and local governments who want to help students get access to computers and meet the challenges in their lives, Thrun and his ilk want to write them off to low wage jobs, consigning them forever to the lowest economic class.

My perspective: if we write off the possibility that MOOCs might provide many students with opportunities for high quality instruction we are writing off what could be a way to transform education. It would be a shame to abandon the potential of MOOCs because some tech billionaires see it as yet another means of reinforcing factory schooling and social Darwinism.