As MOOCs have matured, they have stuck almost perfectly to the ‘hype cycle’ first outlined by Gartner many years ago. They were met with a big burst of euphoric expectations about how they were going to revolutionize education.
Whilst they have undoubtedly achieved a great deal, they are currently stuck in the ‘trough of disillusionment’ whereby initial results fail to match up with the heady expectations originally set.
Completion rates have remained stubbornly low, they have remained largely the preserve of the already educated, and they have been accused of failing to really change the ‘chalk and talk’ method of pedagogy.
More Realistic Expectations
Such disillusionment has even spread to some of the forerunners of the movement. Stanford professors John Mitchell, Candace Thille and Mitchell Stevens reveal frustration at the struggles the movement has experienced.
They suggest that MOOCs have largely failed to deliver the revolution in learning that was originally touted, but they have nonetheless provided a lot of insight into how people learn.
It’s hoped that these insights will be invaluable, both in designing effective online means of learning, but also better offline education too.
Even in this, however, they wish to temper expectations a little. The range of behaviors that can be observed in a MOOC is rather limited. For instance, most students either passively watch a lecture or complete simple multiple choice questions. Neither of these capture the rich behaviors that typically underpin learning.
It’s hoped however that the next generation of MOOCs will offer students a much more complex range of tasks to complete, and therefore a richer dataset for researchers to trawl through for insights.
Learning About Learning
As most technologies drag themselves back up the Hype Cycle, they do so off the back of the considerable learning opportunities presented by their original struggles to achieve traction.
In that sense, the MOOCs have certainly not been a failure as they have provided an enormous level of insight into how people successfully (and unsuccessfully) learn.
Some of these insights are already finding their way into practice, with recent studies suggesting the flipped classroom based approach could be crucial in encouraging girls to take up STEM topics.
They have also reminded us of the tremendous potential, and need, for affordable means of lifelong learning. With skills now estimated to have a shelf-life of as little as five years, professionals will need to be constantly refreshing their skills in order to stay employable.
To be able to do that at low, or little, cost would be a fine legacy for the early MOOC pioneers to have left.