Demystifying the MOOC

When massive open online courses first grabbed the spotlight in 2011, many saw in them promise of a revolutionary force that would disrupt traditional higher education by expanding access and reducing costs. The hope was that MOOCs — classes from elite universities, most of them free, in some cases enrolling hundreds of thousands of students each — would make it possible for anyone to acquire an education, from a villager in Turkey to a college dropout in the United States.

Following the “hype cycle” model for new technology products developed by the Gartner research group, MOOCs have fallen from their “peak of inflated expectations” in 2012 to the “trough of disillusionment.”

There are several reasons for the disillusionment. First, the average student in a MOOC is not a Turkish villager with no other access to higher education but a young white American man with a bachelor’s degree and a full-time job.

Eight of every 10 students enrolled in University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania MOOCs in 2012-13 already had a degree of some kind. The credentials gap was most pronounced in countries where the courses were supposed to have the biggest impact among the undereducated: Some 80 percent of MOOC students in Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa had a college degree, while in the overall population only 5 percent did. The data represents more than two dozen courses offered through Coursera, a for-profit company that partners with universities and organizations to offer the online courses. <Read more.>

Via Jeffrey J. Selingo, The New York Times.

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