Quick thoughts on two articles from 2013 about MOOCs

MOOC hype was really hitting its straps in 2013 and after a while it became pretty easy to predict what you would be reading in think piece such as the two that I’ve just been reading from The Conversation. (Reading these in 2016 offers some opportunities to evaluate the claims  on both sides with a little more perspective)

The articles are:



While there are elements of nuance, they fall mostly respectively into the hyper/hater spectrum that is common of discussions in this space.

Things present that you’d expect to find:

Reference to the Gartner Hype cycle
Discussion of the high dropout rates of MOOCs
Assumptions that online delivery = cost savings (still? Really?)
Students are going to collectively abandon conventional universities any second now
Concerns from academics about job losses
Criticisms of simplistic pedagogy in MOOCs
Generalised criticisms of eLearning
Questioning the educational credentials of MOOC entrepreneurs

I won’t say that some of these questions and points raised aren’t valid but nowhere in either of these thinkpieces (and you know they’re thinkpieces because they don’t reference any other literature) are any objective facts. To be fair, a lot was unknown at that time – though it kind of still is, which raises another set of questions – about where MOOCs might go and speculation loves a vacuum.

It’s also very easy (and fun) for me to sit here and make fun of MOOC hypers and haters. For the record, I think MOOCs have a role to play in fostering interest in further learning but in my experiences of them over the last few years, I haven’t seen one that answers my questions about what they offer that a trip to the library or a graze over YouTube doesn’t.

Ok, that’s actually not true – Kevin Werbach’s Coursera MOOC on Gamification did some nice things with peer assessment that lifted it above the crowd and MITx’s MOOC on Implementing Education Technology was also valuable. It’s worth noting that both of these sit in discipline areas where you would expect something more from people teaching in the online space.

The rest of the MOOCs I’ve dabbled in, supported or seen hyped to the high heavens by higher ed high flyers have either missed the point or taken a 180 degree turn away from the initial – and far more interesting – philosophical approach underpinning MOOCs in the work done by Downes and Siemens in what are now referred to as cMOOCs.

The one new idea that I found in these posts was an attempt by the author of the first to coin a new acronym – HARVARD  (Highly Accessible (and Rigorous), Very Affordable (and Recognised) Degrees). I guess there was/is a gap in the literature for this concept and maybe its time simply hasn’t arrived yet but it feels like an overreach.

(I think it was an attempt to coin it anyway – I was curious whether it was just something that I’d previously missed or whether it has taken off anywhere and found exactly one hit for it in my searching)

MOOCs have somewhat disappeared from the conversation (small c) these days, data analytics sweeping in to enjoy a spot as flavour of the month for now. (Given the recent furore of privacy and the Australian Census and this kerfuffle though today, it might also be in for some interesting times.