By Jeffrey Selingo
Three years ago, this headline appeared in The New York Times: “Virtual and Artificial, but 58,000 Want Course.” We all know the rest of the story. When the artificial-intelligence class at Stanford University started that fall, 160,000 students in 190 countries had signed up, touching off MOOC mania on campuses around the world.
Massive open online courses were heralded as the invention that would disrupt higher education’s expensive business model and would become the next big innovation in the tech world. By the end of 2012, the Times declared it “the year of the MOOC.”
But a year later, after a series of high-profile failed experiments using MOOCs, another proclamation from the Times about the massive classes arrived in this front-page headline: “After Setbacks, Online Courses Are Rethought.” In the news media, MOOCs had gone from being higher education’s savior to a bust in a little more than a year.
That doesn’t mean MOOCs are dead, however. Far from it. More than six million people have signed up for a MOOC since 2011. Massive open online courses are clearly resonating with an audience looking for instruction on the web. And the format is able to scale education in a way that simply can’t be done on a physical campus.
MOOCs might not put thousands of colleges out of business in the next 50 years, as Sebastian Thrun, a co-founder of Udacity, predicted in 2012, but they are changing how students learn, how professors teach and grade, and how higher-education leaders figure out what differentiates face-to-face instruction from online learning.
These remain the early days of MOOCs. Remember the early days of the web? “No one knew what web search would become in 1998,” Ryan Baker, an associate professor of cognitive studies at Columbia University who has taught a MOOC, told me. “We had Infoseek and AltaVista, and Yahoo tried to do it like a phone book. And then Google came along, and that’s how we remember search today.”
It’s during this time, after the phase of the initial and unrealistic hype, that the primary players—Coursera, edX, and their college sponsors—need to answer three fundamental questions about the position of MOOCs in the academic ecosystem if the technology is ever to deliver on some of its promises.
[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/article/MOOC-U-The-Revolution-Isnt/149039/ ]