Home > Uncategorized > The MOOCs Haven’t Materialized… Yet…

The MOOCs Haven’t Materialized… Yet…

Education technology writer Audrey Watters’s post “The MOOC Revolution that Wasn’t” in The Kernel” provides a comprehensive analysis of how Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, have not materialized and have, consequently, failed to deliver the promised inexpensive and equitable post-secondary education that led the NYTimes to declare 2012 “The Year of the MOOC”. While yesterday’s post links to an article by Julia Freedland that would beg to differ, and the nascent trend of unbundling higher education might make MOOCs as originally conceived immaterial, Watters examines the original promise of MOOCs versus the outcomes delivered and finds only disappointment. For example:

  • The pass rates are embarrassingly low. “…the average completion rate (for MOOCs) still hovers around 15 percent, a level that would be unacceptable for a traditional face-to-face college class.” 
  • The successful students were mostly college graduates. “…when the demographics of “successful” MOOC students were scrutinized in one University of Pennsylvania study, it was discovered that 80 percent already had college degrees. Rather than providing opportunities for the educational “have-nots,” MOOCs seem just as likely to further the opportunities of the educational “have-alreadys.” “
  • Start ups flopped. Highly touted Udacity’s program, a partnership with San Jose State University, which was “…hastily assembled” had an abysmal pass rate. “While the pass rate in a traditional, face-to-face SJSU class is 74 percent, “no more than 51 percent of Udacity students passed any of the three classes,” Inside Higher Ed reported. (Consequently) The partnership between SJSU and Udacity was scrapped.” 
  • The ultimate goal of MOOCs, it appears, was the creation of entry level jobs for computer science. Sebastian Thrun, one of the early champions of MOOCs, predicted that within 50 years they would eliminate all but ten colleges. Now? “The latest tagline used by Thrun to describe his company: “Uber for Education.” …and as Watters wryly notes, “…the analogy “Uber for Education” conjures… piecemeal work… it’s contingent and low-paid and unreliable work.” And Thrun’s new MOOC paradigm, according to Watters is based on this premise: Rather than education for all, MOOCs now merely promise education for employability. 

Could MOOCs ever realize the promise they showed three years ago? Not if we accept the world as it is now… the world Thrun and his tech billionaires see this way:

The San Jose State pilot offered the answer. “These were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives,” he says. “It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit.” 

So… rather than provide support to federal, state, and local governments who want to help students get access to computers and meet the challenges in their lives, Thrun and his ilk want to write them off to low wage jobs, consigning them forever to the lowest economic class.

My perspective: if we write off the possibility that MOOCs might provide many students with opportunities for high quality instruction we are writing off what could be a way to transform education. It would be a shame to abandon the potential of MOOCs because some tech billionaires see it as yet another means of reinforcing factory schooling and social Darwinism.

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