The problem with the MOOC movement

Sebastian Thrun’s recent statement that Udacity’s MOOCs are “a lousy product” not providing the educational results expected has attracted much attention within higher education media.

mooc-movement-problemSome have seized on his words as validation of criticism, while others merely see a pioneer acknowledging the fact that there is more work to be done, not refuting the entire value of his creation. Less well-noted are his statements about the improvements needed to realize the full potential of massive open online courses (MOOCs).

The irony of Thrun’s observation is that it comes from someone with much to gain by the acceptance and use of MOOCS rather than objective, academic sources with an understanding of pedagogy, instructional design, and the ingredients necessary to learning.

In fact, the uncritical acceptance of MOOCs by politicians and academics in their current form, as a panacea for problems of access, cost, and equity, would be laughable if the reality was not so embarrassing.

With no apparent due diligence, major universities rushed to be a part of the “MOOC Movement” without assessing whether any real learning was being produced.

Had the institutions offering MOOCs been for-profit, it is safe to say that Senator Harkin would have convened a Congressional hearing to determine why fewer than 5 percent of enrollees ever finish and why one “course” of over 100,000 students produced only seven “certificate” graduates, even with no tuition or tax dollars at stake.

As Kurt Vonnegut noted in Cat’s Cradle, “In this world, you get what you pay for.” For MOOC participants, no cost equates to little or no validated learning. Or, so we assume.

In fact, little effort has been made to determine whether actual learning occurs.

In an era where regulators and accreditors alike are demanding objective proof of learning outcomes, MOOC providers, sponsoring academic institutions, and third-party recommenders of college credit are paying little attention to outcomes.

Rather, it appears the assumption has been made that if the instruction originates with a superstar faculty presenter from a prestigious institution, then of course learning results.

See page 2 for a look at the taxonomy of MOOCs…