By Jeff Selingo
The media love a good story, a narrative with characters, tension, and conflict. Higher ed rarely provides such narratives, unless they involve students overcoming the odds, or protests over tuition and student debt.
For the past two years, the subject of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, has delivered a compelling narrative about the future of higher ed, at a time when many colleges were struggling to maintain enrollments and stabilize their finances.
MOOCs reimagined the online course from a video camera at the back of a lecture hall to short videos made for the Web, with automated grading and peer interaction. The courses were taught by professors at the nation’s most elite colleges. They were free. Hundreds of thousands of students around the world signed up for them (although many fewer completed them). And Silicon Valley venture capitalists started to invest in platforms that would bring hundreds of them to the Web.
Even as the media—from Thomas Friedman to a few of us at The Chronicle—continued to tell that story, the MOOC providers, Coursera, edX, and Udacity, evolved. In start-up parlance, they “failed fast” then “iterated” their models, and in some cases, such as Udacity, made a “pivot,” meaning they tweaked their business model.
“We have found our niche in helping people find employable skills,” Sebastian Thrun told me on a visit to Udacity in September. Thrun, Udacity’s founder, is the former Stanford University professor who offered his artificial-intelligence class online to the masses for free in 2011, helping to set off the MOOC hype.
[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/blogs/next/2013/11/24/moocs-move-beyond-the-perfect-media-narrative/ ]