Online courses don’t live up to hype

Massive open online courses were supposed to revolutionize — and democratize — higher education, Politico reports.

But two years since their debut, the initial buzz seems like nothing but hype.

Millions have signed up for online courses sponsored by elite colleges, yet they report high dropout rates and disappointing student performance among those who stick it out. A quietly released report last week on a partnership between San José State University and major course provider Udacity found that at-risk kids performed particularly poorly and students found the courses confusing.

Collective statistics aren’t available, but by one tracker’s account, most MOOCs have completion rates of less than 10 percent.

And the courses have yet to figure out a sustainable business model. Earlier this month, provider Coursera announced it earned $1 million by charging students for course verification certificates, but that’s just a sliver of what really drives the organization: $65 million in investment capital from education technology and mainstream venture capital firms.

Some college faculty don’t trust the courses or actively work against their formation, in part for the preservation of their own institutions. These courses largely escape the regulatory environment that governs the delivery of traditional higher education courses. Assessing MOOC students is still a puzzle, as is measuring whether a course is a good one.

And one big issue remains mostly unresolved: There are still too few ways to translate a student’s collection of course experience into credits or a degree.

“Credits from a MOOC are only good in our current system if you can transfer them to an existing institution for credit, or if you can take them directly to an employer,” said Andrew Kelly, director of the conservative American Enterprise Institute Center on Higher Education Reform. “Right now … [it’s] not quite clear that either of them is taking place.”