NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Online Courses for High School

April 21, 2014

High schools across the United States are experimenting with massive open online courses (MOOCs), says Michael Horn, cofounder of the Clayton Christensen Institute.

MOOCs are online classes that can support large numbers of students. One of the earliest and most notable MOOCs took place in 2011, when a Stanford University professor conducted an online class on artificial intelligence that 160,000 students tuned into. That professor subsequently created Udacity, a company that offers free, online classes to people across the globe.

Udacity is not the only online MOOC provider today. MIT and Harvard have created edX, a nonprofit MOOC provider. And two Stanford professors have created Coursera, which started with elite universities offering online courses for free. At the end of 2013, more than 5 million students had enrolled in Coursera classes. MOOCs are still in the process of figuring out how to improve course completion rates (some rates are as low as 10 percent) and make the business model sustainable (some have started charging fees).

But could MOOCs be used in high schools to transform teaching?

  • The original, entirely-free MOOC classes would do a lot for public school systems that are strapped for cash. In 2013, Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed a law allowing MOOCs to be taken for credit in any subject in which the state gave an end-of-year exam. Miami-Dade, Broward and Pinellas counties are all using MOOCs in the current school year.
  • The Smithsonian Institution has also begun using MOOCs to deliver interactive classes that would otherwise have been impossible without a field trip.
  • And Coursera has begun offering professional-development MOOCs for K-12 teachers.

The problem is that MOOCs are not personalized and they are not built with attention to learning design. Right now, they are not particularly well suited for high school students. The classes do, however, provide a wide variety of educational opportunities to which students would otherwise not have access, and they have the potential to play a role similar to that of Advanced Placement classes.

Source: Michael B. Horn, "MOOCs for High School," Education Next, Summer 2014.


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