By James G. Mazoue
If 2013 was the Year of the MOOC Backlash, is 2014 the Year of Capitulation? Those cheering for MOOCs to disappear from the higher education landscape certainly hope so. Emboldened by Sebastian Thrun’s comment that “MOOCs are a lousy product,” anti-MOOC hypesters and the blogosphere’s “I-told-you-sos” are reveling in a schadenfreude moment as they anticipate the blowback escalating into full-scale retreat followed by a raised white flag. The precipitous rise and ignominious downfall of MOOCs fits the standard “MOOC saga” narrative ”that has emerged over the past year, which goes something like this:
“Once, MOOCs were all the rage due largely to irrationally inflated claims circulating in the popular media. However, more sober reflection eventually revealed what MOOCs really are — a brazen attempt by Silicon Valley venture capitalists to palm off a cheap imitation of a college education — and all the hype died down. We are now in a post-MOOC recovery.”
Having exposed MOOCs as a “sham,” hardline critics feel vindicated in their repudiation of online education for the masses as a failed and discredited experiment. Among traditionalists, the declaration in Forbes that MOOCs are “yesterday’s news” is hailed as a fitting and long overdue epitaph. It is time, they say, to put our flirtation with faux education to rest and move on.
Has the notion of a MOOC-based education finally reached a dead end?
Well, not so fast. Like the announcement of Mark Twain’s death, a victory dance on the grave of MOOCs and similar disruptions to location-dependent learning is premature. It is wishful thinking to believe that either the much hoped-for demise of MOOCs has occurred or, even if it were to occur, that it would give traditional education safe harbor from forces threatening to upend its conventional ways of doing business. As I describe here, even if the current garden variety of MOOCs were to vanish, four drivers of change will continue to pose a serious challenge to the status quo.
First, the notion that MOOCs are dead is an overly hyped exaggeration. The experiment is not over; in fact, it has just begun. We are now transitioning from a period of speculation to one of evidence gathering. In terms of gauging MOOCs’ impact on traditional education, perhaps the most important question has yet to be answered: Are MOOC-based degrees a viable alternative to degrees from residential campuses? Thanks to Georgia Institute of Technology’s Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS), which enrolled its first students in January 2014, we will find out. As the first accredited MOOC-based program, Georgia Tech’s initial offering serves as a test case for the feasibility of MOOC-based degrees.
[ Full article available at EDUCAUSE Review Online: http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/beyond-mooc-model-changing-educational-paradigms ]