Early returns show that massive open online courses (MOOCs) work best for motivated and academically prepared students. But could high-quality MOOCs benefit a broader range of learners, like those who get tripped up by remedial classes?
That’s the question the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wants to answer with a newly announced round of 10 grants for the creation of MOOCs for remedial coursework.
“We’re trying to seed the conversation and seed the experimentation,” said Josh Jarrett, the foundation’s deputy director for education and postsecondary education.
MOOCs tend to provoke strong feelings in the academy, and in the wake of Gates’s announcement this week, some observers questioned whether free, widely available online courses could be tailored to students with remedial needs. But others, including experts on developmental learning, welcomed the attempt to tackle one of higher education’s most vexing problems.
“This has the potential for raising the quality of instruction in developmental education, if used properly,” said Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education.
The foundation seeks applications for MOOCs with content that focuses on a “high-enrollment, low-success introductory level course that is a barrier to success for many students, particularly low-income, first-generation students.”
That’s a tall order, said Amy Slaton, an associate professor of history at Drexel University. MOOCs are about economies of scale, she said, which are not compatible with the personalized support remedial students typically require to succeed. Doing high-touch teaching on the cheap “doesn’t work in the real world,” said Slaton, an expert on technical education and workforce issues. “When you spend more, more kids learn.” (Read more.)