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Are MOOCs really dead?

Recent studies suggest that MOOCs are very much alive, but are not a threat to traditional higher education

MOOC-educationFor some educators and journalists, the rasping final breaths of massive open online courses (MOOCs) began late last year.

They followed nearly two years of hype and excitement that even the most skeptical of instructors and reporters got swept up in. Many of those who denounced the courses did so in a similarly frantic fashion, writing proclamations and open letters condemning MOOCs, as though they were caught in a great academic war.

Then, suddenly, a blow was struck. And it came from one of MOOCs’ most famous creators.

“Sebastian Thrun, godfather of the massive open online course, has quietly spread a plastic tarp on the floor, nudged his most famous educational invention into the center, and is about to pull the trigger,” Rebecca Schuman wrote at Slate in November 2013.

It was a dramatic way of saying that Thrun had announced that his company, Udacity, would now focus its MOOCs more on vocational training rather than traditional liberal arts courses.

That Udacity was only one company of a growing number focused on MOOCs — and that many of these platforms, including its main competitor Coursera, still aimed to disrupt traditional higher education — did little to slow the wave of speculation.

It was the capper on a year of MOOC hand-wringing. If 2012 was the “year of the MOOC,” then 2013 was the “year of the MOOC backlash.” Those who trust Gartner’s “Hype Cycle” believed MOOCs were going through a common “trough of disillusionment,” that would soon be followed by a “slope of enlightenment.”

But by the start of 2014, many were already asking: “Are MOOCs dead?”

The answer is not as sensational as the question. MOOCs aren’t dead — not yet — but they likely won’t be replacing any traditional means of higher education, either.

(Next page: Why MOOCs live on)

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One Response to Are MOOCs really dead?

  1. michaeldufresne

    June 6, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Group me with the critics. I have taught hybrid/blended classes for a number of years and feel that online combined with on-site engagement can improving education in many ways. However, my institution recently announced that it would wade in with its own MOOC offerings, and I could only ask, “Why would you want to invest so much to give it all away and get little or nothing in return?”

    I see a refocusing MOOCS on vocational training as a good idea in that the content and objectives are limited and practical and measurable, though I don’t doubt that students can benefit from a well-developed MOOC on any subject.

    A person needing an MBA will not want MOOC education. However, a person wanting to improve skills in a particular aspect of business would love to attend a prestigious college’s free, no-obligation MOOC to learn and perhaps earn a “badge” with which he/she may receive professional development recognition from an employer.

    MOOCs should not die. They do provide an essential supplement to traditional college programs. High schools and unemployment agencies and employers should promote their use, and motivated individuals should take advantage of them as much as possible. Colleges providing MOOCs should continue to provide top-quality services as an advertisement and public service outreach. All parties should recognize the validity of badges awarded by reputable MOOC providers.

    But, bottom line, someone has to pay. As higher education continues to struggle to pay its bills, MOOCs seem logically to be the first in line at the chopping block.

    Why not develop an MBA-level MOOC in which the course project is to develop a way to fund MOOCs without loading them with ads, charging exorbitant tuition, or drawing on scarce funding from the providers.

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