In January 2013, The Innovative Instructor wrote a post titled The ABCs of MOOCs, which attempted to provide an overview to the emerging and rapidly evolving phenomenon of Massive Open Online Courses familiarly known as MOOCs. We have come a long way in a short time in regards to MOOCs. This post examines the evolution of the MOOC trend.
In an article by Laura Pappano dated November 2, 2012, the New York Times declared that 2012 was The Year of the MOOC. Within a few months during that year several companies had been formed by university partnerships (Coursera, edX, Udacity); University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan had been fired (and reinstated) in part due to her reluctance to rush onto the MOOC train (see: the New York Times, Anatomy of a Campus Coup by Andrew Rice); and Thomas Friedman, among others, had written about MOOCs “disrupting” the future of university education. Some pundits declared that brick and mortar universities were seeing their end of days.
But a year later, Clayton M. Christensen, a professor of business administration at Harvard, and coiner of the phrase “disruptive innovation”, presented a more nuanced view in an article co-written with Michael Horn – Innovation Imperative: Change Everything Online Education as an Agent of Transformation (New York Times, November 1, 2013). “But for MOOCs to really fulfill their disruptive potential, they must be built into low-cost programs with certification of skills of value to employers. So far, only a few traditional universities have incorporated MOOCs into their curriculum, and only to supplement what they are already doing — like ‘flipping the classroom,’ with lectures watched from home.” And “As concepts and skills are taught more effectively online, it’s unlikely that face-to-face interaction will cease to matter.”
Certainly the promise of MOOCs – free education for the masses – seemed to herald an exciting new wave. Yet many of us in support roles in higher education questioned whether the reality would live up to the hype. Articles lauding the new revolution were short on economic analysis. MOOCs are being offered without cost to students, but are not without cost to develop. Getting a handle on the financial side can be difficult as production costs are often hidden. These include: faculty time for course preparation and delivery, videotaping and editing costs, time spent to “scrub” content for copyright issues, and faculty and/or staff monitoring time when the course is running. How many institutions can support large scale production of free courses with no monetary return on investment? For that matter, if Harvard or Stanford is already offering an introduction to computer science MOOC, does it make sense for Anystate University to do the same?
Moreover, the MOOC environment does not necessarily bring out the best in pedagogical practices. A lecture watched online may loosely equate with a face-to-face lecture in a large course, but neither experience is likely to top a small, active-learning-centered classroom experience.
It is not surprising that two recent articles took on a different tone. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Steve Kolowich wrote (April 14, 2014) an article titled 2014: The Year the Media Stopped Caring About MOOCs?. Kolowich identifies 2013 as the year of the MOOC backlash, and noted that “Coursera’s new chief executive, the former Yale University president Richard C. Levin, last month reiterated that the company’s MOOCs should be thought of as ‘additive to what universities are doing, not disruptive.’”
Meanwhile, Inside Higher Ed reported on April 17, 2014 that Udacity plans to begin charging students for MOOC course completion certificates, cutting MOOCs to MOCs (Massive Online Courses).
Gartner, Inc., a leading information technology research and advisory company uses a method called Hype Cycles to analyze emerging technologies. [See illustration above] Five phases in a technology life cycle are identified: 1) the technology trigger 2) the peak of inflated expectations 3) the trough of disillusionment 4) the slope of enlightenment 5) the plateau of productivity. It would appear from the recent press that MOOCs are experiencing the crash into the trough of disillusionment. It will be interesting to see a year from now if there is an upward trend towards enlightenment.
Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources
Image Source: Jeremykemp at en.wikipedia