Are MOOCs Delivering on Their Brand Promise”?

Online LearningIn a recent article in the New Yorker, Maria Konnikova explained how some see the 2011 pronouncement that MOOCs would be “transformative to education” as more wishful thinking than a winning strategy.

Konnikova points to the 1969 mission of the UK’s Open University as being the same one that is driving today’s MOOC providers:

“The first, and most urgent task before us is to cater for the many thousands of people, fully capable of a higher education, who, for one reason or another, do not get it, or do not get as much of it as they can turn to advantage, or as they discover, sometimes too late, that they need. Men and women drop out through failures in the system, through disadvantages of their environment, through mistakes of their own judgment, through sheer bad luck. These are our primary material.”

– Geoffrey Crowther.

I think what’s making good material for writers is the disconnect between the inflated expectations and the tangible impact on what many believed was the audience for MOOCs.

There is a dearth of evidence to support MOOCs even making a dent in what must surely be the biggest problem affecting many of today’s students—the unaffordability of accredited higher education. If students can significantly reduce their costs through MOOCs, then that’s a win-win: more students can afford higher education, providing more higher-qualified candidates for today’s jobs. How to do that profitably is perhaps the paradox of MOOCs for the providers.

In their current guise, I would say MOOCs are doing admirably at meeting the needs of leisure learners and people in gainful employment who want to broaden their knowledge. Since most material is equivalent to freshman year study, professionals are not so much deepening their knowledge, as refreshing the basics.

That’s all good. MOOCs can provide an engaging way to study. But was there a gaping problem to solve for leisure learners or professionals that wasn’t being addressed by alternative means? I would argue no.

I think it’s the MOOC brand promise that hasn’t delivered … yet.


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