edX job placement experiment reveals MOOC resistance

A failed experiment at nonprofit massive open online course (MOOC) platform edX has cast a pall over one possible future for the online learning platforms.

edX’s failed pilot program could be a blow to MOOCs.

MOOC provider Udacity announced in November that it would turn its focus away from traditional colleges and universities and toward more vocational training. This “pivot” led many to speculate that the future of MOOCs could be career — rather than higher education — oriented.

Now, an unsuccessful job-placement pilot program quietly tested by edX about a year ago puts that prediction into question as well.

The experiment, according to a slide presentation shown privately to members of edX’s consortium but obtained by the Chronicle of Higher Education, attempted to pair 868 high-performing MOOC students with technology companies including Google and Amazon.

Only three students managed to obtain a job interview at the end of the experiment. Not one student was hired.

While a spokeswoman for edX said no one was available for comment, the Chronicle quoted one slide offering a possible explanation.

“Existing HR departments want to go for traditional degree programs and filter out nontraditional candidates,” the slide read.

As a nonprofit quickly expanding into high school and international markets, edX may be less concerned about the experiment’s failure, but for MOOC platforms, like Coursera and Udacity, that are increasingly basing their business models on the sale of completion certificates, a lack of acceptance from HR departments could be a problem.

Michelle Rhee-Weise, senior research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Technology, said MOOC companies are starting to realize the challenge in taking on massive higher education institutions.

Instead, they are looking toward utilizing MOOCs as a career-building bridge.

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