The MOOC Effect

For many different reasons, MOOCs have generated a lot of concern among faculty. Critics charge faculty care more about their jobs than they care about students. The prevailing view is zero-sum (win-lose) in that students gain at faculty’s expense. Let’s take a different view: How can MOOCs be non-zero-sum (win-win) for both faculty and students?

MOOCs can do that by motivating faculty to get together as a team and create better degree programs and improve their delivery by using the Lean teaching pedagogy. They can move beyond offering a collection of stand-alone courses and instead integrate the major courses in a degree program, and also incorporate additional learn-by-doing features.

MOOCs disruptive potential is greatest for degrees programs that are a collection of stand-alone courses. MOOCs will have a difficult time competing against an integrated curriculum where improvements are made frequently and quickly by faculty using kaizen. The flexibility to change things and ability to do so quickly is a tremendous advantage compared to the time and cost needed to revise and update MOOCs.

To achieve this, faculty will need to understand the true meaning of continuous improvement (kaizen) as “change for the better,” from a multilateral (non-zero-sum) perspective – not as “constant change simply for the sake of change.” The “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” perspective that many faculty have is short-sighted because even excellent courses are constantly “broke” in some way or another because many things change even over short periods of time.

But, to integrate the courses in a major study area, faculty will need to change their routines for one or two years to make the initial major changes that are needed in each one of their academic programs. They may need to temporarily reduce their research activity and must re-direct nearly all of their service work to kaizen (while continuing to participate only in critically important committees such as curriculum). And, faculty evaluation processes must not penalize faculty for this temporary change in focus. In fact, the evaluation process should substantially reward faculty for participating in improving courses and academic programs.

I recommend faculty begin with Master’s degree programs consisting of 30 or so credits (10 courses) to learn the kaizen process, and then apply it to the major courses in undergraduate programs. Done right, kaizen will be fun and rewarding for faculty and other participants, and result in better learning outcomes and higher student satisfaction. The disruptive potential of MOOCs might not be what everyone thinks it is.

However, the many investors in CourseraUdacity, etc., are banking on the inability of institutional leadership to lead and the inability of faculty to change. They are betting that we will not be able to work together to significantly improve courses, programs, and the value proposition for students and payers, and do so in a short period of time. History indicates that MOOC investors may have made a pretty good bet.

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