Recent studies suggest that MOOCs are very much alive, but are not a threat to traditional higher education

MOOC-educationFor some educators and journalists, the rasping final breaths of massive open online courses (MOOCs) began late last year.

They followed nearly two years of hype and excitement that even the most skeptical of instructors and reporters got swept up in. Many of those who denounced the courses did so in a similarly frantic fashion, writing proclamations and open letters condemning MOOCs, as though they were caught in a great academic war.

Then, suddenly, a blow was struck. And it came from one of MOOCs’ most famous creators.

“Sebastian Thrun, godfather of the massive open online course, has quietly spread a plastic tarp on the floor, nudged his most famous educational invention into the center, and is about to pull the trigger,” Rebecca Schuman wrote at Slate in November 2013.

It was a dramatic way of saying that Thrun had announced that his company, Udacity, would now focus its MOOCs more on vocational training rather than traditional liberal arts courses.

That Udacity was only one company of a growing number focused on MOOCs — and that many of these platforms, including its main competitor Coursera, still aimed to disrupt traditional higher education — did little to slow the wave of speculation.

It was the capper on a year of MOOC hand-wringing. If 2012 was the “year of the MOOC,” then 2013 was the “year of the MOOC backlash.” Those who trust Gartner’s “Hype Cycle” believed MOOCs were going through a common “trough of disillusionment,” that would soon be followed by a “slope of enlightenment.”

But by the start of 2014, many were already asking: “Are MOOCs dead?”

The answer is not as sensational as the question. MOOCs aren’t dead — not yet — but they likely won’t be replacing any traditional means of higher education, either.

(Next page: Why MOOCs live on)

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