MOOCs Global Education Conference Presentation

Vance Stevens and John Hibbs will be participating in the Global Education Conference being held on-line November 12-17, 2012

The following is our submission to the Global Education Conference. Comments are encouraged either on this page, or at this page on the GEC  web site.

 The New Frontier of Massive Open On-line Learning Courses

THE Game-Changer of the 21st Century

Presentation by John Hibbs and Vance Stevens

 OUR ARGUMENT: Massive Open On-Line Courses (MOOCs) will change the entire landscape of education.

Here s why:

For the first time in all human history a combination of technology, enterprise, and a common lingua franca, makes it a near-certainty that within this decade every adult, everywhere, will have access to courses and full degree programs from fine universities from around the world. Free to the student. Free to the taxpayer. (or very nearly so.)

This has been a long time coming. This recap helps to make our case:

 From Baseball to Bugs Bunny to Harvard

THE FIRST STEP in the crossing of the “free” Rubicon came with radio in the 1920’s. Madison Avenue, Budweiser, baseball and baseball fans were the big winners.

Like silk stockings on Marilyn Monroe, the combination of technology, enterprise and large audiences brought unimaginably large consequences.

Next, in the 1950’s, came television – and with it the “magic” of Bugs Bunny   — so grainy and so limited in broadcast availability that if you weren’t alive at the time you couldn’t possibly imagine the excitement. All of it delivered to television screens not much bigger than that on today’s IPhone.

Next, in less time than it took for radio to go from its invention to near universal use – about 30 years  – television progressed from fuzzy, black and white to full living color. delivered on flat-screen televisions the size of a Volkswagen with performances form here there and everywhere. Armstrong from the moon, the Olympics from Tokyo, Seoul and London. The Arab Spring from Cairo. And just about every other thing where the cost of the production could be paid for by the advertising revenue it generated.

All of it today as “ordinary” as a Big Mac.

Then, in just the last two decades, came an explosion of thousands of Web delivered on-line courses (and full degree programs) from providers with peer-reviewed credentials and full accreditation blessings.  Like television, the came in a variety wider – and deeper – than the Atlantic. To your computer, your phone, your tablet — and soon enough – on  “wearables” delivered by Google.

Why make the trek to Oxford when what was on offer was right at your fingertips?

Classes were relatively expensive, but millions paid the freight. What’s more valuable than a good education?

And now, in the last 18 months, came MOOCs with college courses from elite universities.”open” to anyone, anywhere. More than a million students have already enrolled. From all over the globe. And why not? The courses are free! How high is the sky?

FREE? Did you say FREE?

Yes, “free” –and thus the reminder: “Baseball-to-Bugs Bunny-to-Harvard.

Ever since “we” took our first bite of the “free” apple, ever since technology, consumerism, enterprise and innovation combined to lower prices, accelerated delivery and made vast improvement in products with high demand, it has become more and more clear that these same forces apply to the whole wide world of education

Here, now, are the priceless fruits of education. Orchards of them now available to virtually everyone, everywhere. Who cares if the price you pay for a course from Yale is a commercial now and then? As important is our “history lesson” – that as the quality will improve. Not just of the class or the degree program. But to the University and its campus. With large, large benefit to the whole entire landscape. (a “story” for another time.)

Now, about our Presentation

The New Frontier of MOOC’s – THE 21st Century Game Changer

What’s a MOOC?

MASSIVE: Class sizes ranging from 5,000 to 100,000

OPENTo anyone, anywhere

ON-LINE: Access –  virtually everywhere

CLASSES: From some of the most elite universities in the world. (And just about everyone that wants to pile on.)

Now, today, at this writing, MOOC s are no longer a question of whether, but when? They are no longer a question of Big Change; but of what size on the Richter Scale?

MOOC’s are so ridiculously complicated, the impact so large,  all those participating at the GEC Conference could not do justice the MOOCs if that was the ONLY subject of the menu. (Thankfully, there will be many other MOOC presenters. Check back here for links to all of them.)


  • We will not argue that MOOCs are the next best thing for education since the invention of the candle.
  • Nor will we argue that MOOCs are the worst thing since the burning of the Alexandria Library. (Which is now digitizing its holdings.)

In the time allotted we will try to limit the crux of our presentation to these two issues:

  1. What is the gravest risk to the whole MOOC undertaking?
  2. Who can be the largest beneficiaries of MOOCs?

We say the gravest risk is the headlong pace of MOOC deliveries (provided by newly launched for-profit platforms). This is our chief concern:

That headlong rush of the leading for-profit MOOC provider, Coursera Incorporated is putting at great risk the brand image of the University.

The first reason is this. Coursera deliveries don’t come within a long country mile of the”normal” (technical) standards of the great bulk of the really good on-line providers. Those providers have worked tirelessly, over many years, to sand, polish and package their classes so carefully that peer-reviewed research from several sources argue that there is “no significant difference” between outcomes on-line vs. outcomes inside a physical classroom. The technical mechanics to cause smooth delivery and adequate, timely responses are at hand.  We see no reason that there remedies should not have been applied. 

The second reason is that there is virtually no argument whatsoever that the quality of the MOOC classes are not within a long country mile of the quality a student gets on the campus. Yet both drink from the same branded cup. This is a conflict the size of an aircraft carrier.

The third reason is the headlong rush to add more and more Universities to the Coursera band wagon. Here are our concerns:

  • Even with a “perfectly tested” (technical model), how can Coursera, with a staff smaller than most chemistry departments, possibly “roll out” hundreds of classes to tens of thousands of students with any hope to deliver outcomes deserving of the University from which the courses originate?
  • Presently, retention rates are a tiny fraction of those enjoyed by the University – the guess is less than one student in eight completes a course. If seven out of eight “go away” unsatisfied, for whatever reason, how much damage is that causing to the whole idea of the MOOC? How much to the branded image of the University.
  • The faster the roll out, the less likely the remedies, the bigger the crash.

While the “market” will eventually decide the fate of those who have invested in Coursera, what concerns us this most is what ultimately happens the whole MOOC undertaking as a result of Coursera’s roll-out?

Will the MOOC baby be thrown out with the bath ?

This outcome would be an horrific shame! The technical fixes are relatively easy. (Could it be that the problems are so routine, so ordinary, that the Gurus leading the parade are wrapped to tightly inside their algorithmic bubble?)

Without the remedies, MOOCs could be labeled with an Achilles Heel they really don’t have.The parade we would like Coursera, and other for-profit platform providers, to lead would be one where the campus itself is a big winner. (The whole subject of massively sized classes, machine-learning, good use of metrics and computational capabilities now at hand all show enormous promise for the whole entire landscape of education. (A timeless African adage applies: “Slowly, slowly catch a monkey.” )

The point:  The elephants that MOOCs need to nourish come with names like Stanford, Yale and Princeton; they also come with names like the University of Oregon, Washington, Indiana and Hawaii. These are the magnets and the nutrients which draw so many millions of highly motivated individuals from all over the world. The platform providers need to nourish and care for those “elephants”, or the whole damn undertaking suffers set backs that need not be. (Made worse when those publications no favorable to MOOCs — Chronicle of Higher Education, Time Magazine, Forbes, New York Time – start singing  a different tune?

(Here, let us be crystal clear: The authors have been passionate about accelerating access to education, on-line for nearly twenty years. We are as excited as anyone on the planet about MOOCs. Our biggest worry is that a few bad apples could put long delays in MOOC deliveries – in full living color –  to the great loss of large benefit of millions of student; to the providers; and to the entire planet.)


Second Issue of our Presentation

Who can most benefit from MOOC participation?

Tentatively, we advance the idea that Special Interest Groups (SIGs) can benefit from  partnerships  with the Universities for the great benefit of both. We submit that the SIGs most likely enjoy these benefit will be advocacy groups with issues of wide, global imperative.

Two examples: Climate Change and Healthy Oceans. Picture if you will, oceanography courses from Scripps University tied to outreach by those in the business of protecting the Ocean.) We intend to touch on this kind of possibility.


(and the bulk of our discussion time)

In particular, we will focus on a discussion by ESOL teachers as to the role of MOOCs in this arena. The governments of the USA and UK promote English languages classes around the world. They do this in the belief that through those classes they will reach the future leaders in their respective communities. There are many other compelling reasons for promoting ESO, to include meeting the escalating demand for language instruction.

This is a very substantial opportunity where the MOOC concept could reach millions of prospective students and help them maximize their opportunity for success.


Vance Stevens, has been involved with ESOL for four decades and leads a community of practice whose over 1000 members are also predominantly engaged in ESOL and foreign language learning. This presentation will seek to engage this community in the live online discussion as a means of further exploring the affordability of MOOCs in the fields of ESOL as well as other languages besides English.

John Hibbs was the driving force behind Global Learn Day, a 24 hour non-stop webcast with presenters from all 24 time zones. (His passions include Healthy Oceans, sailing and Oregon Duck football.)

Most especially, Hibbs and Stevens applaud those individuals who have brilliantly expanded 24 hour/24 time zone concept into the five-event called the Global Education Conference.

Great work, Steve Hargado and,Lucy Gray!!!

Submitted by

John Hibbs and Vance Stevens

About oregonhibbs

I'm passionate about improving access to education, worldwide, sailing, Duck football (I live in the shadow of the University of Oregon in Eugene) and connecting with people with ideas and work that "can change the world". With this in mind, I am the "Skipper" for Global Learn Day, which you can find out more about at OREGONHIBBS.COM ; Write to

Posted on October 29, 2012, in Khan,Coursera,Etc, MOOC's Global Ed Conference, News. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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