by Jon Marcus, The Hechinger Report
After barely more than a year in business, opposite-coast rivals edX and Coursera have become two of the biggest higher-education organizations in the world, with a combined 6 million registered users drawn to the online teaching they provide.
And why not? The so-called MOOCs, or massive open online courses, offered by the two behemoths based at MIT and Harvard on the East Coast and Stanford on the West combine free education with the convenience of learning at any time or place, alongside with tens of thousands of cyber-classmates at a time in any of 524 courses in all that range from calculus to genome theory, introductory guitar to the science of cooking, Chinese architecture to American national security.
This has seemed the perfect marriage, leading to pronouncements that MOOCs will mean the end of conventional universities and skyrocketing tuition, and even proposals by state legislators to substitute online courses for the in-person kind at public universities.
But the honeymoon may be coming to an end.
“The challenges of education are so large that our entire community has been seeking a solution, and online learning and MOOCs are seen as a potential silver bullet,” Agarwal says. “Everybody really gets excited about it. But the jury is still out in terms of whether and to what extent purely online education is effective.”
And even their critics say MOOCs have accomplished a lot in their short lives.
“MOOCs have done quite a few good things,” Saberi says. “They’ve started a conversation that, look, we have huge problems in higher education, and about how online technology can help students on and off campus. That doesn’t mean the current MOOCs can solve these problems. They’re a stepping stone, not a solution.”
MOOCs were indeed thought to be some sort of (cost-cutting) silver bullet for the educational system—and they certainly have forced institutions of higher learning to have to figure out what they think they are doing and why—but they now seem to be best understood and used as course content delivery systems, not some sort of ‘plug and play’ education.