Low cost, high quality: the advantages of COOCs over MOOCs.
GUEST COLUMN | by Howard E. Horton
As the economy continues to recover, higher education institutions are looking for ways to provide an affordable education to their students without sacrificing the quality of their courses. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been offered as one potential way of bringing knowledge to a vast audience, while also reducing costs by decreasing the time it takes for students to earn their degrees. However, in order to keep costs low, MOOC providers are making sacrifices that reduce the quality of the education their students receive by limiting the amount of money spent on faculty and student services. That is why New England College of Business and Finance (NECB) focuses on what I like to call “classically offered online classes” or COOCs, instead of MOOCs.
While MOOCs pair one faculty member with thousands of students, COOCs maintain a low student-to-faculty ratio, allowing for the individual attention necessary for a quality educational experience. This approach recognizes that faculty are a core component of higher education. Their main job is to focus on the needs of their students, not the technology that goes into leading an online course. That’s why institutions offering COOCs assign IT specialists to help professors design effective classes. In this way, faculty are able to devote all of their time to ensuring the success of their students.
At the same time, COOCs benefit students by offering them a more personalized, customizable student experience than they would find with MOOCs. Schools that offer COOCs have services that resemble those at traditional institutions, including 24/7 free, online tutoring and alumni and career services that help students plan their courses and their future after their degree. Library and research skills workshops make it easy for students to understand how to plan and draft their research papers and projects, while virtual learning platforms give them the opportunity to discuss their coursework with faculty and their peers.
While proponents of traditional education may question the quality of education offered by COOCs, studies have shown how effective online learning can be. The U.S. Department of Education found that students who completed some or all coursework online, on average, outperformed those who were educated solely in the traditional classroom setting. Unlike traditional institutions, COOCs also are exempt from high facility costs. If students are added, facility costs remain low as new classrooms don’t need to be added. Online institutions offering COOCs can also keep facility costs down by disposing of frills and extracurricular activities. Without dormitories, cafeterias, gymnasiums, student lounges and student organizations, they can invest their money on the most important component of education: the academic experience.
This academic experience is critical for today’s growing population of nontraditional students, who fall above the age of traditional college students and prefer a no-frills education that will propel their career forward. Many of these students are balancing work and family commitments in addition to pursuing their education. Rather than paying extra in tuition for a chance to live in a dormitory and visit the cafeteria, they want a low-cost, high quality education. COOCs are well suited to the busy lifestyles of these students, ensuring that going to school is not a financial burden for them.
While the cost of COOCs is important to students, the quality of COOCs is also key. Institutions that offer COOCs make a point of measuring student satisfaction, professional achievement and student learning. They assess COOCs through a combination of standardized survey instruments and evaluations from external faculty. This feedback is then taken into consideration to make sure the student experience lives up to the highest standards of educational quality.
In contrast, MOOCs seem more focused on quantity instead of quality. The Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University recently reported most MOOCs have completion rates of less than 10 percent. In addition, MOOCs sometimes rely on peer-grading systems to evaluate student performance rather than having an expert faculty member review the work. MOOCs are serving an important role by making the concept of online education a regular part of our national news conversation, but a focus on quality will be key to their long-term survival. In the meantime, more emphasis should be placed on continuing to develop COOCs as a sustainable approach to online education. COOCs have all of the benefits of traditional education, from faculty who provide students with individual attention to career and student services, without the added costs incurred by facilities and frills. As the conversation about the revolution of online education moves forward, I hope COOCs will continue to gain recognition as a credible, affordable approach to higher education.
Howard E. Horton is president of New England College of Business and Finance.