For top-secret research I am undertaking, I'm looking at a range of MOOCs, both xMOOCs, cMOOCs and flavours inbetween (although, definitely not ridiculous variations such as SPOCs). Here's some breaking news – they are all pretty good. Take away all the hype, commercial bubble and rabid arguments on both sides and you are left with some good teaching material.
As I've been going through them (admittedly not as thoroughly as a student), I've begun to think that a mix of them would probably represent a good grounding in a topic, equivalent to a 1st year of an undergrad degree. It wouldn't teach some of the other skills you develop, I'll come to that later. Let's take an example, say I want to study a degree in Psychology. The following MOOCs would give me a good knowledge base:
- Udacity's Introduction to Psychology – good overview of the main areas of Psychology, covers experimental design, major topics, ethics, etc
- Coursera Introduction to Statistics – a basic intro to stats 'for everyone'
- EdX Descriptive Statistics – good to get students to understand interpreting and presenting data clearly
- Saylor's Cognitive Psychology – going a bit deeper into a sub-discipline (and reinforcing bits from the intro course)
- Saylor's Social Psychology – ditto for above
- Lancaster's Linguistics course – a kind of elective, maybe choose from a range of topics eg philosophy
Now, I think that would give you a good grounding in knowledge. I know from doing my first degree in Psychology that the first year is really spent bringing everyone up to speed. A second year could then start on the assumption that all of the above is known to all students. This is where a conventional (campus or distance) university can step in. The MOOCs only take you so far. They're good at getting across content, but not so good at developing skills. As a Psychology graduate there are key skills you need to develop (the elusive qualities of 'graduateness'), such as critical thinking, reading and interpreting scientific literature, debate and communication skills, experimental design, etc. These are really best developed by interaction with other learners and experts in a more structured, focused manner than most MOOCs offer.
So here's a model for a university wanting to offer something different – come to us with certificates in all of the above MOOCs and we will enroll you on a shortened two year degree programme. Because we want to be competitive our fees (assuming a UK uni here) are set at £7K per annum (compared with the usual 9K) and that means your degree will cost you £14K, not the usual £27K. That begins to look like a good offer, and I would be willing to bet that there would be no difference between these students at graduation than those that have studied a three year programme.
Of course there are a whole host of objections to this model, for instance it can undermine universities, it plays along with the broken funding regime, a three year degree programme is the right length of time for personal development, and so on. I wouldn't disagree with any of these. And I wouldn't suggest that this is the only model that should be pursued, but rather it is an example of how changes in education, and open education in particular, could offer a wider diversity of university models.
One parting thought – if this model was used successfully I wonder how long before the MOOC providers started charging for their courses to be used in this way?