Jan 17 2013

Is a 100,000:1 Student-to-Teacher Ratio Appealing?

MOOCs capitalize on the limitations of higher educations.

Nearly every logistical issue faced by growing colleges is solved by massive open online courses (MOOCs). In fact, colleges have exerted considerable effort trying to make their classes smaller, not bigger. You’ve seen 12:1 student-to-teacher ratios advertised in marketing brochures. Does 100,000:1 have the same effect?

In reality, it probably doesn’t matter. MOOCs will likely serve a different student population and supplement traditional higher education, not supplant it. The traditional higher education model has limits that MOOCs easily avoid. For example, a classroom can hold only so many students, and a professor can answer only so many questions. MOOCs throw that idea out the window. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different, as Randy Riddle of Duke University explains:

By their very nature – large numbers of students, no direct faculty interaction with individual students, a “pre-programmed” course of study and assessments – MOOCs would appear to have what some have called limitations when compared with a traditional face to face course or smaller online credit course with high faculty involvement. However, these aren’t limitations as much as features that make MOOCs unique.

MOOCs are built on efficiency of scale, giving access to the teaching of a world class professor to thousands of students at once. The lectures, assessments and activities for a course – especially an online course – and the expertise of the professor behind the content isn’t cheap and, in many cases, is unique to a particular university. A MOOC throws open the door of the professor’s classroom, allowing him to teach more than just a few dozen students at a time.

Because of the scale, “hands on” involvement by the faculty member is limited. This shifts the responsibility for learning the material squarely on the shoulders of the individual student and their motivations to learn. It also shifts conversation and dialogue about the content to a more diverse student population that could be worldwide – a community of learners.

Read MOOCs: What role do they have in higher education? on Duke’s information technology website.

Read about the difference between MOOCs, online learning and blended learning here.

Join us on April 16, 2013 for a webinar focusing on outside-the-box thinking and innovative technologies that drive colleges’ successful distance learning programs. Learn more and register here.

<p>Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/ThinkStock</p>

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