MOOCs in the Classroom

MOOCs in Class Rebecca Griffths

In the Ithaka S+R publication MOOCs In The Classroom?, Rebecca Griffiths asks many important questions. While the collegiate market is an interesting Petridish (pun intended) for economies of scale experiments, this post will argue that K12 would be an even better place. The K12 education market is made up of over 3,000,000 students in the US, who must typically endure 6 hours of instruction per day for 180 school days to move up to the next grade level. In most cases, these students are mandated by compulsory attendance laws and are required to be in school until they are 18 years old.

A typical first generation MOOC was a mix of multi-media, self-graded assessments, discussion board postings, and peer review. Faculty members developing 2.0 MOOCs have come up with innovative ways to improve them. Some will test whether they can “flip” their courses without having to create lecture videos themselves. Other instructors will weave the critical thinking focus of their courses in via seemingly unrelated subject matter. For instance, a program for incoming college freshman uses social networking activities to improve students’ personal health habits while “teaching” a class called Health in America.

All of education could benefit from discovering the cure for Baumol’s disease, when institutional costs rise annually without commensurate increases in output, or productivity. This phenomenon was named after economist William Baumol, who observed productivity in labor-intensive services lagged manufacturing, because labor-intensive services cannot cut staffing without reducing output, and compensation costs constantly rise (Hill and Roza, 2010).

The K12 arena provides a more robust experimental setting, because unlike the collegiate market, K12 students are not directly paying for their own education. Hence, it stands to reason that these students may be even less motivated than college students. Therefore, if MOOCs can be used to engage K12 students and factors can be discovered that help them persist until course completion, this could substantially benefit all of education.

Is anyone researching whether MOOCs can be used to improve outcomes, or reduce the costs of teaching students in middle and high schools? We know from research that hybrid course formats have the potential to improve student outcomes and reduce costs. Yet MOOCs only seem to benefit students with healthy amounts of intrinsic motivation (Bok). How much scaffolding and encouragement from face-to- face instructional coaches would online courses need to yield better outcomes? Maybe 2.0 MOOCs will be better able to improve the college readiness of students struggling in mediocre high schools? Conversely, perhaps the costs of adding high touch personalization elements will destroy the cost efficiencies inherent in the MOOC model?

These are questions I would like to learn the answers to, however, the major MOOC players are preoccupied with finding profitability and answering to investors. Perhaps when the dust settles and the principal players (, CourseBuilder, Coursera, CourseSites, EdX,, P2PU,, Udemy, and Udacity) have all conceded to a merger, we will be ready for some experimentation in the K12 market.


Bok, D. (2013). Higher Education in America, Princeton University Press. New Jersey.

Griffiths, R. (2013). MOOCS in the classroom? Ithaka S+R. October 28, 2013.

Kelly, A. (2014). Disrupter, distractor, or what? A policymaker’s guide to Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCS). Bellwether Education Partners. Accessed on May 29, 2014 at

Hill, P., and Roza, M. (2010). Curing Baumol’s disease: In search of productivity gains in K–12 schooling. Center on Reinventing Public Education. University of Washington Bothell. Seattle, WA.’s-disease-search-productivity-gains-k–12-schooling