MOOCs At The Crossroads

In a major setback to MOOCs education, San Jose University recently, announced to suspend  its for credit courses on the Udacity website after more than half of those who enrolled on their courses failed to pass them. The end of the experiment represents a blow for MOOC sites hoping to use the San Jose experiment to encourage other schools to offer for credit courses via their platforms.

Here is the official statement by San Jose and Udacity which explains the reasons why San Jose chose to discontinue its alliance with Udacity:

“The improvements we are considering include developing introductory materials that will help students prepare for and engage in college-level online classes. We would also like to look at the impact of the frequency of quizzes for grades and other similar incentives to help students move through the material in a timely manner. Another focus will be to explore opportunities to move to open-registration, self-paced classes with student-set deadlines.”

Although, the official statement did not call into question MOOC’s potential to disrupt the traditional learning; it simply suggested more refinement is needed for MOOCs to make a serious dent in the university market.

However, the recent episode seems to be just what the sceptics needed to advance their arguments against MOOCs. The cycle of discourse for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) is nearly complete. From being hailed as the messiah of change, to the saviour of those who could not access good quality higher education, to doubt about their efficacy, to challenges to their business model and vilification and rejection in early results.

Some of the arguments that are being used against MOOCs are:

  • One could never replace a teacher in the room
  • Universities were not just about content, but were about the whole pastoral experience
  • Professors did more than teach – they led and inspired in ways that were impossible in impersonal MOOCs

Key Issues

True, expectations that MOOCs generated when they were launched were highly inflated. But at the same time, most of the arguments that are being used against them, now, could prove to be unfounded.

In their current avatar, MOOCs are not going to substitute higher education in the near future. However, they could supplement the university education. To do so they need to pay attention to following issues that had cropped up in recent times:

Drop-out Rates: Flexible learning was supposed to be as one of the biggest strength of MOOCs. However, experience so far tells the different story: Students dipped in and out as they wished, resulting in large drop-out rates.

Drop-out rates need to be addressed for courses to become a serious part of education systems. However, even a completion rate of 10 per cent can mean more students than many universities teach in a year.

Sustainability: MOOCs are yet to develop a sustainable model. It has not yet evolved into online learning companies like any other, with free courses one part of a wider paid-for product line.

For universities, costs can be partly covered by charging for small services such as certification to a small proportion of students. Furthermore the costs can also be offset against recruitment budgets while also directly meeting their wider educational missions.

Academic Recognition: MOOCs need to get their courses recognised by universities, for the prospects of their long term impact largely depend on whether universities offer or recognise these courses for credit.

Some of the leading universities in the US have started a process which will allow them to recognise completion of MOOCs as entry onto courses or toward academic credit. Similarly, institutions might start to license MOOCs and provide tuition around them, again lowering the cost and increasing the accessibility of a course.

Learning Outcome: Another important issue is how to measure learning outcome. Even the MOOCs that have been recommended for credit don’t know whether participants actually learned the material or not, and to what extent they have learned.  So far, very little attention has been given to the measurement of learning outcomes by MOOC providers

What Favors MOOCs

MOOCs are here to stay, notwithstanding the problems mentioned above. There are many things going in favour of MOOCs. Prominent among them are:

  • A course can be provided to an unlimited number of students online
  • Most of the courses are free, and that makes MOOC exciting for anyone with an interest in widening access to education
  • Interaction, peer learning groups and decentralised assessment system are some of the exceptional experience, that participants get from MOOC

 Adapted From:


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