A set of recommendations regarding the future use of Massive Open Online Courses were released Dec. 19 in a letter by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, detailing ways to cultivate the growing educational tool with maximum benefits.
PCAST suggested letting market forces decide which innovations for MOOCs were best, as the industry is still developing. It also encouraged accrediting bodies to be flexible in response to innovation and for both the government and universities to support research and sharing of results on effective MOOC techniques.
MOOCs are free classes that mesh audio, video and interactive learning tactics. Students are able to discuss topics with each other and professors in online forums or through video chats. At least 100,000 students have taken these courses, and hundreds of higher education institutions are experimenting with MOOCs or offering them.
Companies such as Coursera and edX have been partnering with universities to offer courses to the public.
“These new educational technologies have the potential to allow teachers and schools to move away from measuring student progress merely as the number of hours spent in a classroom, and toward a system that measures outcomes — learning and competency — almost continuously in real time,” the letter to President Barack Obama said.
PCAST lauded the potential for MOOCs and online courses in general to lower the costs of higher education.
Over the past 10 years, tuition and fees at public universities have increased 5.1 percent faster than the rate of inflation, according to the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center.
In 2011, 6.7 million students were enrolled in at least one online course, compared to 1.6 million in 2002.
Online courses could save colleges money through reduced space and utility use.