MOOCs in K-12 education: more hype than substance

A recent headline reads Massive Online Classes Expand into K-12. In a narrow sense, the headline is correct. MOOCs are moving into K-12 education. But the move is extremely limited so far, with few courses and relatively few students passing them, and media reports tend to overplay the extent to which MOOCs are being used for credit by high school students. As we report in the upcoming Keeping Pace 2014 annual report (to be released at the iNACOL Symposium during the first week of November), MOOCs have received extensive attention in the media in recent years, as the largest of the courses have attracted tens of thousands of students. Some postsecondary institutions have partnered with MOOC providers to offer remedial or credit-bearing courses, creating additional awareness of the potential—and the current drawbacks—of MOOCs.

But media coverage similar to the headline at the start of this post obscures the fact that MOOCs have not yet had a significant impact on K–12 education.

Within K–12 education, in fact, it is not clear that MOOCs should be considered a category separate from online learning from a policy or practice perspective. There are very key differences between most MOOCs and many online courses, including the role of teachers and the level of student interaction and data integration. The role of teachers and student interaction, in particular, tend to be lower in MOOCs than in other online courses. But there is overlap between these categories, and not a clear distinction. Some online courses have a very limited teacher role—as do most MOOCs—and some MOOCs are being used with online or onsite teachers.

Florida is among the very few states formally examining whether MOOCs should be among the educational options available to K–12 students. HB7029 (2013) required the Florida Department of Education (DOE) to develop the Florida Approved Courses and Tests (FACT) initiative by SY 2015–16, to expand student choice and online course options, explicitly including MOOCs. In addition, the law required the creation by the DOE of a new approval process for MOOC providers (and other online course providers). This approval process was submitted to the legislature in February 2014.

When the legislation was passed in 2013, some Florida schools responded by formally offering MOOCs to their students. Students in Pinellas County (FL) are taking advantage of a series of three MOOCs offered by St. Petersburg College to help high school students prepare for college-level courses. As of November 2013, 1,100 students had enrolled in the first class, a math MOOC, and 130 had completed it. Broward College offers a similar course to students that combines reading, writing, and mathematics into one course to prepare students for college; it had 3,200 worldwide students enrolled as of May 2014. These are small numbers in a state in which students accounted for about 400,000 course enrollments in online courses, from Florida Virtual School (mostly) and other providers.