By Michael Lenox
The bloom is off the rose. Massively open online courses
(MOOCs), heralded by Silicon Valley visionaries and higher education critics alike as the great disruptor of the university, are coming under increased criticism for their failure to provide the powerful learning outcomes that their proponents predicted. Foremost of concern to the naysayers is the low completion rates of most MOOCs, as low as 4% as reported in some surveys (see this study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania). There are many reasons for this, but it is becoming clear that flashy videos and engaging problem sets are in of themselves not sufficient to generate commitment among many participants.
On the path to disruption such setbacks are to be expected. The evolving market for online education is a great case study for potential disruptors and disruptees in other markets. New technologies tend to progress up lumpy “S-curves,” improving slowly at first until reaching a critical juncture where innovation accelerates. It is often only during this accelerating phase that the new technology begins to surpass legacy technologies on important dimensions of merit. Driving this S-curve are the hundreds, if not thousands, of actions by intrepid entrepreneurs and innovative incumbents. Experimentation is the norm and learning the imperative. Many efforts will fail, but a few successes have the potential to drive disruption. Such as the case with online education. The innovative efforts of leading incumbents and the bold visions of novel start-ups are pushing the industry forward.
Recent evidence suggests that creating a community of learners is critical to gaining commitment and ultimately a powerful learning environment for all involved. Bharat Anand, Jan Hammond, and V.G. Narayanan writing about Harvard’s experience with HBX cite the importance of creating a vibrant social, collaborative experience online (see the article here). By engineering opportunities for online engagement between learners, they were able to substantially raise completion rates (85% in the case of HBX CORe). Similar results have been found by other online providers including edtech start-up NovoEd that hosts a variety of courses including one of the first MOOCs, Technology Entrepreneurship, by Stanford professor Chuck Eesley (a collaborator of mine). Since its inception, the course has required students to form teams and work collaboratively on creating entrepreneurial ventures (see here).
[ Full article available at Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/darden/2015/05/27/the-path-to-disruption-entrepreneurs-incumbents-and-the-next-revolution-in-online-education/ ]