MOOCs To Bring Personalized Learning, Big Changes to K-12, Ed. Professor Predicts

By Benjamin Herold — June 24, 2013 2 min read
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San Antonio

Lehigh University education professor Scott Garrigan knows firsthand that many educators find massively open online courses, or MOOCs, threatening.

“Imagine every student engaged in every classroom. I would love to do that in my face-to-face classes, and I don’t know how,” said Garrigan. “They’ve done it. And it annoys me.”

But Garrigan, like a growing number of educators in higher ed, has chosen to embrace the MOOC phenomenon. And with MOOC-like offerings on their way to K-12, high school teachers should get ready to do the same, he said.

That means getting ready for:

  • “Interest-driven learning,” in which students increasingly get to select their own courses.

  • Exponentially more students with (online) access to the best teachers and instructional materials.
  • A tidal wave of new data that allow teachers to quickly diagnose and address students’ learning weaknesses.
  • And a new emphasis on using that same data to “evolve instruction” and change the way teachers go about their work.

Already, said Garrigan, models like Khan Academy have shown what works:

  • Short videos that spend roughly 10 minutes on a single topic.
  • A personal, collegial feel marked by conversational dialogue, handwritten notes, and an informal style.
  • “Retrieval feedback” that quizzes students and promotes learning retention every five minutes or so.
  • Deadlines for tests and homework.
  • Study forums and groups.

“Our attention span can handle that,” Garrigan said.

Some educators are prone to dismiss some of those elements, he said. Take the constant short check-ins of the “retrieval feedback” quizzes. While many educators may believe it to be a shallow educational strategy, Garrigan told dozens of teachers at the conference “that little thing promotes learning in ways that some of the best talent in this room has had difficulty doing.”

Likewise, said Garrigan, the opportunity for personalization in online courses shouldn’t be dismissed.

“It sounds like an oxymoron, but there is testimony [from higher ed] that it’s possible,” he said.

With dropout rates still alarmingly high across the country, the potential benefits can’t be ignored, he argued.

Of course, said Garrigan, there are challenges: Who will validate student learning? Who is responsible for the quality of course content? What about special education? How will state departments of education react?

But the “water has already begun trickling through the dike,” he said.

If K-12 teachers want to avoid getting swept away by the coming flood, they’d better be able to adapt, as some of their counterparts in higher ed have already begun doing.

The rapid transformation can be “tough to swallow,” said Garrigan, “but I think, ‘OK, I have to change my views.’”

Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekEdTech for live updates from ISTE 2013.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.