As readers of this blog know, I am not one of the many evangelists for the so-called ‘MOOCs’ (Massive Open Online Courses – and what a horrible acronym). It has been my view more or less from the start that this cannot be more than an experimental laboratory for online education – it certainly cannot easily be a longer term sustainable tool for learning. The believe that you could teach hundreds of thousand of students in one single course, do so in a pedagogically sound manner and with proper support, and do it all for free (with some vague notions of this serving as a marketing device for attracting students to ‘regular’ funded courses) was never rational. The surprising thing to me has been how many academic leaders signed up to this; more still, how many started making apocalyptic statements about what would happen to those who didn’t get it.
The hype hasn’t gone away yet, but there are some first signs that there are more serious questions being asked and that, the early enthusiasm is declining. A recent survey and report by Inside Higher Education concluded as follows:
‘Questions about quality and retention have featured prominently in the ongoing debate about massive open online courses, which appears to have polarized the expectations surrounding MOOCs. In 2012, 46 percent of [colleges and universities surveyed] neither agreed or disagreed that MOOCs presented a sustainable method of offering online courses, with the remaining respondents split almost evenly between the positive and negative sides. One year later, the share of respondents who disagree has grown to 39 percent, while those in agreement only make up 23 percent.’
Addressing online education will continue to be a really important topic in the higher education debate. But this will be a better debate if it is not subverted by unrealistic hype.