Universities are not really backing off exploring using MOOCs, and financiers are continuing to back MOOC companies. Udemy, which isn’t even one of the “big three” platforms, announced just last month that it had raised more than $30 million in its most recent funding round.

“It seems clear that MOOCs are neither the cataclysmic disruptor that advocates predicted nor the flash in pan their critics were hoping for,” Andrew P. Kelly, director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a  report released by Bellwether in May. “MOOCs have changed the conversation about higher education reform and, if deployed strategically, they could much more.”

The report, targeted at policy makers, stressed that MOOCs have mostly helped educated students become more educated.

That may mean they aren’t reaching enough of their original target audience (low-income, low-access students that may not be able to attend college), but it also means, for the most part, MOOCs are supplementary products, not replacements.

Kelly compared the differences between MOOCs and traditional higher education to those between health clubs and hospitals.

“Providing free access to a gym will encourage lots of healthy, motivated people to use it and get healthier,” he wrote. “And that would be a good thing; healthier people will avoid costly visits to the hospital and will live longer, more productive lives. At the same time, though, doctors do not expect that access to a gym will automatically improve the health of less motivated people, especially those with serious health problems.”

The Harvard Business Review this month also tried to answer the question of whether administrators, especially those of business schools, should be worried about MOOCs.

“The answer depends on the students participating in MOOCs,” the researchers wrote. “If they fit the profile of traditional MBA or executive education enrollees, then the threat to business schools is clear. Our data suggest that this is not the case. At least at present, MOOCs run by elite business schools do not appear to threaten existing programs, but seem to attract students for whom traditional business school offerings are out of reach.”

(Next page: MOOCs are alive, but not a threat)


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