MOOCs never amounted to much

Gartner’s hype curve    Photo courtesy of Ged Carroll

Gartner’s hype curve

Photo courtesy of Ged Carroll

by John Watson

If you’re not familiar with the Gartner hype cycle, you should be, because it provides a useful framework for thinking about the excitement/puff/hysteria that seems to accompany so much technology in education. The cycle diagram shows expectations rapidly rising after a new innovation is introduced, followed by an equally fast fall into the “trough of disillusionment.”

MOOCs (massively open online courses) followed this path. The New York Times deemed 2012 “The Year of the MOOC, ” suggesting that online courses with minimal instructor involvement would be the disruptive innovation that would change post-secondary education. In 2013, Scholastic asked if MOOCs would change K-12 education; its first answer was “absolutely.”

But MOOCs never lived up to their promise. In some ways they followed the Gartner path to recover somewhat to the “plateau of productivity,” but the reality never came close to matching the hype.

An article in Science (paywall), summarizes why:

“The vast majority of MOOC learners never return after their first year, the growth in MOOC participation has been concentrated almost entirely in the world's most affluent countries, and the bane of MOOCs—low completion rates—has not improved over 6 years.”

Phil Hill at e-Literate adds his insights as well in a recent blog post looking at the Science article findings.

For most DLC members and visitors, extensive details are probably not that important. Two lessons stand out, however:

1)    New innovations and technologies are often hyped far before they are proven; anyone considering new technologies should be aware of this history.

2)    To their credit, many in-the-field educators recognized MOOCs limitations from the start. The Scholastic article quotes Jennifer Whiting, then of Florida Virtual School, pointing out that K-12 students need the interaction with a teacher that are lacking in MOOCs, among other concerns. But like much early hype, the article led with the promise in the third sentence and buried the concerns in the 11th paragraph.

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