After barely more than a year in business, opposite-coast rivals edX and Coursera have become two of the biggest higher-education organizations in the world, with a combined 6 million registered users drawn to the online teaching they provide, Diverse reports.
And why not? The so-called MOOCs, or massive open online courses, offered by the two behemoths based at MIT and Harvard on the East Coast and Stanford on the West combine free education with the convenience of learning at any time or place, alongside with tens of thousands of cyber-classmates at a time in any of 524 courses in all that range from calculus to genome theory, introductory guitar to the science of cooking, Chinese architecture to American national security.
This has seemed the perfect marriage, leading to pronouncements that MOOCs will mean the end of conventional universities and skyrocketing tuition, and even proposals by state legislators to substitute online courses for the in-person kind at public universities.
But the honeymoon may be coming to an end.
What limited research has been done into the effectiveness of online learning has found that it has much higher dropout rates and lower grades than the conventional kind. Proponents of conventional education, which at first seemed unsure of how to respond to the MOOCs craze, now are publicly questioning them at conferences with titles such as, “MOOCs: Revolution or Just Passing Fad?” and “Will MOOCs Pass the Test?” and speakers including prominent education scholars.
Employers still prefer hiring applicants with traditional versus online educations, according to a new poll. And even advocates for MOOCs concede that expectations have gotten out ahead of them.