There have been recent articles featuring primarily Sebastian Thrun, the earlier leader of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and founder of the company, Udacity, which specializes in developing and delivering MOOCs.
The first was a piece in Fast Company about how Thrun has been disappointed by the experience of MOOCs. This was followed by a more positive piece in the New York Times about changes in MOOCs that are being considered in order to address their failures. The failures turn out to be the small percentage of people who actually attend the full course and the fact that most of them already have degrees.
However, the discussion might be misleading. It not so much whether online courses are good or bad, but how it is very difficult to succeed with a new innovation by casting it as a minor modification of something that already exists. In this case, the idea that online learning should be very much like a typical college course, but just online, may not have been an innovative enough idea. For example, the Khan Academy, which packages learning into ten minute videos that anyone can access, is a much greater change from convention and has also been much more successful.
Indeed, the fact that many in the MOOCs already have degrees maybe should make MOOC developers reconsider their target. Perhaps MOOCs will be much more appealing as a cost-effective means of lifelong learning for those who cannot afford the time or additional money to attend college than for those who would be college students.
In a knowledge age, the biggest challenge is how to provide learning opportunities for all adults – all of whom need to continue to learn.
(Disclosure: While this blog has had previous posts on higher education, it is now more relevant since I was recently appointed to the board of the Westchester Community College. Of course, my views do not represent those of the College now, or as it may turn out, even in the future 😉
© 2014 Norman Jacknis