The president of Stanford University, a laboratory for massive open online course (MOOC) experimentation, questions the future of MOOCs as key pieces to schools’ online education programs.

moocsJohn Hennessy, who has a computer science background and has served as Stanford’s president since 2000, said in a recent interview that opening college-level classes to anyone and everyone with an internet connection wouldn’t be a viable strategy for colleges and universities.

For as many students who excel in MOOCs provided by elite universities, he said, there will always be many more students who will struggle mightily with the course material in the impersonal web-based classroom.

“The range of student capability within the course simply becomes so large that you’ve got 10 students that are way ahead of the class – or 1,000 students that are way ahead – you’ve got 5,000 that are lost and you have some in the middle – and it just doesn’t work,” Hennessy said in an interview with the Financial Times.  “[When] you give an exam, that exam is going to be a cakewalk for some students and it’s going to be a disaster for others – and you could see that in some of the early experiments we’ve done with the really massive activities.”

Hennessy is hardly the first higher-ed official to point out the inherent weak spots in MOOCs, derided by many as detrimental to a probably quality education.

John Ebersole, president of online school Excelsior Colleges, wrote in December that the potentially outsized role of MOOCs should be taken seriously by MOOC skeptics, as the classes gain traction in the educational mainstream.