For the most part, the conversations about the emergence of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)
that have flooded the media have focused on open online content for higher education and professional
development. Now, however, the landscape is changing and K-12 technology directors, administrators,
and teachers should spend 2014 preparing for the promise and the pitfalls of K-12 MOOCs.
Existing K-12 MOOCs and Related Research
MOOCs are traditionally offered through major course providers (e.g., Coursera or Udacity) or
through developers and instructors utilizing open online platforms (e.g., CourseSites or Canvas). A cursory
search through most of the catalogs will reveal many courses aimed at college, graduate, or professional
development audiences. However, K-12 courses were on the rise in 2013, which is a trend that will likely
continue in 2014
Here are four examples:
■ AmplifyMOOC: A two-semester MOOC aimed at AP computer science.
■ Exploring Engineering: A pre-college course developed by Wendy Drexler, a pioneer in the K-12
MOOC field. The course was created to introduce students to engineering concepts and processes.
■ Digifoot: A course created by Verena
Roberts, another leader in the field of
K-12 MOOCs. It teaches K-12 students
about social media and digital tools.
■ K-12 Teaching in the 21st Century: A
MOOC co-developed by Michigan Virtual
University and Kent State University.
K-12 students, pre-service teachers, and
in-service teachers all partner to explore
teaching in the 21st century.
Given the relative infancy of MOOCs, there
is not a tremendous amount of research on their
effectiveness—particularly at the K-12 level.
However, there are at least three important
findings that will inform integration efforts.
1. Not all MOOCs look alike. Most
notably, scholars like George Siemens and
Stephen Downes have differentiated between
xMOOCs and cMOOCs. cMOOCs are built
upon connected learning principles and focus
on knowledge creation and generation while
xMOOCs highlight knowledge dissemination
and duplication. Technology leaders should
not blindly accept reports of MOOCs leading
to knowledge improvement or producing a
lack of individualized feedback without further
exploring the instructional strategies (e.g.,
pedagogical beliefs) of the specific MOOC.
2. MOOC participants are typically
highly motivated. Recent research at San Jose
State University provided evidence that those
who succeed in MOOCs are typically those who
are highly motivated. This is due, in large part,
to the fact that many MOOCs lack a pedagogical
infrastructure to provide interactivity. The
good news is that researchers like Lori Breslow
have have also found that peer support can
offset this lack of instructional feedback. This
finding matches much of what we already know
about K-12 online and blended instruction—
unmotivated students will need extra support.
3. MOOCs can engage multiple
audiences in novel conversations. One of
the few published studies on K-12 MOOCs
highlighted a video-based environment in Italy.
Researchers Enrique Canessa and Armando
Pisani provided evidence that the MOOC
environment was engaging to teachers, students,
and parents. In our recent work, we found the
MOOC provided an opportunity for three
separate audiences—K-12 students interested
in teaching, pre-service teachers, and in-service
teachers—to support each other as they learned
about teaching with technology.
How can school leaders
prepare for these
One of the reasons that MOOCs have
gained prominence in both the literature
and in practice is because they capitalize on
connected learning principles. We already live
and work in a networked society. We draw on
videos, blogs, tweets, paper, digital print, and
other media to support our interests, needs,
and goals. MOOCs can provide a way for
educators to begin to re-shape and re-think
their curriculum and their instructional
strategies. There are at least three next steps
for technology leaders to prepare for MOOCs
in K-12 teaching and learning.
1. Enroll in a few MOOCs. MOOCs may
fundamentally change the world education
landscape or our current definition of them
might change tomorrow they may fail to
make a significant impact. However, school
technology leaders would be remiss if they did
not participate in the conversation from a first
person perspective. The suggestion here is plural
because not all MOOCs are the same. Enrolling
in multiple MOOCs will give technology leaders
opportunities to explore important concepts like
digital badges, open content, and peer interaction.
2. Consider the adaptation of existing
content. Developing and teaching a MOOC is
not the only way to include MOOCs and MOOC
content in K-12 schools. Most MOOCs are
created by drawing on existing content and/or
open content. This content is often tagged with a
Creative Commons license. K-12 teachers have
already found success by enrolling in MOOCs
and adapting the content to their own courses or
by having their students enroll for sections of the
course to supplement face-to-face instruction.
3. Stay informed by having connected
conversations. The implementation of
MOOCs into K-12 districts will lead to more
initial questions than answers. Who owns the
content? Are we interested in offering classes to
those outside our district? How do we maintain
the safety of our students? What platforms best
support our own MOOC development? What
are the ways in which we can assess student
performance? What platform do we use and
how do we get connected to others wanting to
offer similar content? These questions should
not be answered in isolation. School leaders and
parents should use connected learning tools
(e.g., social media) to stay connected to the
research, practice, and conversation about best
practices in using MOOCs.
Richard E. Ferdig is the Summit Professor
of Learning Technologies, RCET, Kent State