The failure of Udacity: lessons on MOOC quality

Where was the research?

An extensive history of research in education and the learning sciences tells us about the best ways of learning and teaching. Yet the voices of the thousands of eminent scholars in these fields have been largely drowned out.

Instead economists and innovation gurus like Harvard’s Clayton Christensen and technology advocates like Thrun have dominated the online education headlines.

Despite the enthusiasm of MOOC advocates, the quality of the learning experience in many (but by no means all) MOOCs is dubious. Watching videos of lectures and answering multiple-choice questions is hardly cutting edge pedagogy. But despite this, these kinds of MOOCs have been allowed to flourish with great fanfare.

The reason we have found ourselves here is partly due to the paradigm shift that seems to be occurring in education. There is growing tension between the science of learning and the art of teaching.

While practice-based and theoretical understanding of teaching have thrived and become the dominant paradigms in educational research, the learning sciences, such as psychological science, are increasingly encroaching on the classroom after being virtually absent for decades.

When medicine went through a similar paradigm shift, we saw merchants selling snake oil. Now in this new education shift, we’re seeing such dubious innovations as “brain training.”

The uncertainty around the best form of evidence for educational innovation is allowing pre-packaged solutions to education problems to prosper with little evidence to support their effectiveness.