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Exploring the Advantages of the MOOC Model

AUDIO | Exploring the Advantages of the MOOC Model
While institutions cannot make money off MOOCs directly, the opportunity to expand the institutional brand identity and bring students in through the “try before you buy” model is lucrative.

The following interview is with Debbie Cavalier and Mike King, senior executives at the Berklee College of Music Online. MOOCs were higher education’s buzzword of the year in 2013, but today administrators across the country have taken off the rose-tinted glasses and the critiques of the model are plentiful. Berklee Online, however, has seen success in its MOOCs, offered through both Coursera and edX. In this interview, Cavalier and King discuss their experiences with MOOCs and outline some of the biggest advantages to participating in this movement.

1. Why did you and your team decide to participate in the MOOC experiment?

Debbie Cavalier (DC): Berklee has always been about providing music education opportunities to musicians all over the world. We’ve always had a free strategy. We have something called Berklee Shares, where we package up free lessons from our online courses and make them available to students. We have our YouTube channel with free lessons, and when we learned about the MOOC movement, we saw it as a way to raise visibility for the college and also to expand our reach of free offerings through the MOOC platforms of Coursera and edX. Thankfully they welcomed us with open arms.

Mike King (MK): It’s democratizing education in a way. What we’re trying to do is to provide an opportunity for people to study at Berklee in whichever way is most convenient for them or which works the best. We’d be the first to say that studying here in Boston is tremendous; it’s fantastic here at Berklee. But for folks that are constrained by geography, what we’re doing with the MOOCs and our online courses, it’s a great other option for them.

2. Berklee is a member of both Coursera and edX. Why did your team decide to partner with both providers?

DC: We saw a unique strength with both providers. Like Berklee Online, Coursera is very entrepreneurial and edX is as well. They’re reaching different audiences and our goal was to expand the reach as much as we possibly could.

Our internal course development team has been working within Berklee Online over the past 12 years, and this gave them an opportunity for a lot of professional development through being part of a larger community of instructional designers.

3. What have been the biggest benefits of offering MOOCs thus far?

MK: The tremendous reach that both Coursera an edX have has been wonderful for us. They have been open with us doing very tasteful content-based marketing to our students on both platforms. For us, they have their own base. There are people that are on Coursera that didn’t know that Berklee had an online school so we’re able to communicate with those folks and what we’re really trying to do is provide additional material and information that is course specific to these folks that are in Coursera and edX to say, “You’ve enjoyed this experience with Coursera? There is another option from the online school. Here is some content from our existing courses with the online school. Perhaps you’d be interested in what we’re doing at Berklee Online.”

It’s just been a wonderful top-of-funnel partner for us, just a fantastic awareness vehicle for us.

DC: It has also been an opportunity for us to provide free readiness courses for students who would perhaps like to go to Berklee some day but might not have access to contemporary music education. These courses are preparing future music students whether Berklee or otherwise, and that’s been a wonderful benefit.

4. Are there any major challenges or downsides to offering MOOCs?

DC: One potential downside, though I don’t think we’ve really felt this too much, is that what we offer from Berklee Online is a very different experience than a MOOC.

Berklee Online is all about an intimately-sized class with lots of faculty interaction and a real sense of community through an intense 12-week, college-level course. MOOCs by design are free with huge cohorts and really no true faculty interaction. A challenge or risk could be that one could perceive that one environment is what they’re going to expect in the other, and they’re very different experiences.

5. Is there anything you’d like to add about your experience with MOOCs thus far and the benefits they’ve had for your college?

DC: We’ve been pretty strategic with our course development decisions. All of the courses we’ve developed so far provide the foundation for students to then go on to some of our entry-level courses with Berklee Online. That’s provided a great on-ramp for student’s readiness programs, and made Berklee Online even more accessible to students who might not have the skills otherwise.

This interview has been edited for length.

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