MOOCS – HYPE, HELP, OR HINDRANCE

By Ryan Hunt for his blog, ivry twr.

For better or worse MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) tend to produce strong opinions in people. From those who see MOOCs as the future of education, to those who see them as spelling doom for universities, there has been no shortage of digital ink spilled on the topic. And while MOOCs have never disappeared entirely from conversations about the future of education, it seemed like the focus on this particular buzzword has slowed in recent months.

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However, a recent announcement by Sebastian Thrun, CEO and Co-founder of Udacity, that his company had “a lousy product” has rekindled the inferno of debates surrounding MOOCs. Udacity was launched in 2011 with a goal of bringing MOOCs into the mainstream. Thrun was quick to make bombastic claims about the Udacity brand of MOOCs with statements like, “we have found the magic combination for online learning.” With venture capital investments in the tens of millions and projections to enrol 500 million active students, Udacity was posed to do for MOOCs what iTunes did for online music.

So how did a “magic combination” become a “lousy product?” Like the decline of any large project, there is no simple answer. Some point to San Jose State University’s high-profile decision to “pause” their partnership with Udacity. After being disappointed by their students’ results in co-developed Udacity courses, San Jose State made a fairly public split with the company. Others point to the low completion rates for MOOCs, with studies suggesting completion rates as low as 6.8%. Others still point to the homogenous make up of MOOC students, with enrolment in certain MOOCs being as high as 89% male.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear from Udacity’s new direction that something isn’t working for the company. This leads me to ask the question, is the failure of Udacity a problem with the company, or a problem with MOOCs themselves?

Yesterday Dave Cormier, the inventor of the term MOOC, gave a talk at the 2013 Canada’s History Forum about MOOCs and the future of education. Given the rather dour MOOC news in the previous week I was surprised by how positive Cormier was about the future of MOOCs.

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