The audacity of massive open online courses

I read David Cillay’s thoughtful blog encouraging a redirection of the lively conversation that swirls about us related to massive open online courses. David is most certainly right. For better or for worse, MOOCs are the current darlings of the media.

Are MOOCs a catalyst to something new in higher education?

More important, they now dominate a great deal of the discussion about higher education among political leaders, regents, foundations, regulators, and others – including students and their parents!

Like David, we can wonder how to re-center the discussion on the deeper insights about online learning that we have won through two decades (or more) of hard work and lessons learned. This is surely valuable and even necessary, though we must exercise great care to avoid sounding like the “we-got-here-first” gang.

We rightly consider ourselves pioneers and innovators and – as such – we carry the burden of cheering on the next generation of innovators – even as we cringe.

And there certainly will be cringing.  MOOCs today remain in the stratosphere of Gartner’s hype cycle. Inevitably, they will either traverse the trough of disillusionment, or their blanched bones will provide teachable moments for their successors.  It is too early to tell.

So Why Have MOOCs Monopolized the Conversation?

I’ll leave the debate about whether or how to redirect the conversation to others. Where I’d like to contribute is to pull a thread that arose out of my reading of David’s essay. The question that came to the forefront as I read and re-read this piece was “why?” Specifically, why have MOOCs captivated so many, so quickly, and so deeply.

It seems to me that until and unless we understand why MOOCs have cornered the conversation, we will not know whether or not to re-direct that conversation, or how to re-direct it.