Remedial courses, the not-for-credit classes many college students (particularly those who attend community college) have to take, and pay for, before they can enter credit-bearing courses, are really troublesome for higher education advocates. Students who take remedial courses are less likely to ever graduate. Recent investigations reveal many students placed in such courses might be perfectly able to succeed in regular courses, if they were allowed to take them.

Remediation is expensive, inefficient, and ineffective. At the same time, many reformers have touted the potential for massive online open courses (MOOCs) to offer free education to thousands of students at once.

The Gates Foundation is wondering if there’s a way to use MOOCs to solve the remediation problem. According to a piece at Inside Higher Ed:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today announced it was seeking proposals for the creation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) designed to serve as remedial and other general education courses, which are often stumbling blocks for lower income students. The foundation said in its request for proposals that it hopes to encourage high-quality MOOCs that could help improve college completion rates.

Well good luck with that, Gates. This seems highly unlikely to work very well. Online courses are most effective when students are really focused and motivated and need little extra help beyond lectures.

This is the very opposite of remedial students, who are defined by their need for extra help. If they don’t succeed in relatively small classes offered by community colleges, why would online courses with thousands of students be a good idea?

At least the new remedial courses will be cheap.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer