Are MOOCs Forever? (CHE)

By Jeffrey R. Young

JULY 14, 2016

Think back to the early days of MOOCs. Professors at Stanford and Harvard and other places were suddenly teaching really big classes, free. Hundreds of thousands of students at once were in those courses. It was an unprecedented giveaway of what had traditionally been the most expensive education in the world.

Back then, I met several students who were binging on the courses the way you might binge-watch a season of your favorite show on Netflix. They took as many courses as they possibly could, powering through and finishing as many as 30 courses in a year. When I asked why they were in such a hurry, the most popular reason was that they thought it was all too good to last. As one of those binging students told me, “I’m just afraid this whole thing might end soon.” Surely, universities would change their mind about this, or the start-ups working with colleges might lock things up.

Fast forward to last month, when Coursera did something that stirred up all of those concerns again. On June 30 the company deleted hundreds of its earliest courses, as part of a shift to a new software platform. Reaction, as you might expect, was negative on social media and blogs. One programmer called it cultural vandalism.

To be fair, many of the courses will actually be brought back on the new platform. For the company, the reason to upgrade was a philosophical shift, to offering courses that start on demand rather than just once or twice a year, as their early courses did. Coursera said it had found that completion rates were just better when people could start at their own convenience, but the episode did raise continuing concerns about the future of MOOCs. Will the free courses really stick around, and do MOOCs have staying power?

[full interview here.]

 

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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