The (Eventual) Downfall of MOOCs

Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) are becoming a legitimate powerhouse in the realm of further education, forcing large institutions to take notice. Today, it is not uncommon to see prominent universities like Stanford, University of Michigan, Duke, and Princeton (to name a few) jumping onto the MOOC bandwagon, spreading their brand, and educating thousands in the process.

Participants in MOOCs get the opportunity to take courses from these tier one institutions from the comfort of their home, immersing themselves into course material for which they have a passion. Despite the fact that delivery of course content is still going through natural growing pains (you have to believe that we can move past the archaic “class forum”, right?) it is becoming increasingly obvious that MOOCs are here to stay, and they will only continue to grow as technology continues to break down physical and financial barriers.

In fact, this whole MOOC phenomenon seems too good to be true – and I think it is.

For the time being I believe all is well. MOOCs are only entering their “teenage” years, trying to figure out what they will become, how to optimally operate, and how to deliver the best content to participants around the globe. These are all good things, and for now participants in MOOCs should embrace this period. Soon MOOCs will mature, and I think you can reasonably expect significant changes.

If massive sites like Facebook or YouTube have taught us anything over the years, it is that at some point investors will demand a return on their investment. I don’t think the good folks who offered $20 million in financial support to Coursera are doing it out of the goodness of their hearts… at least not entirely.

Remember the good old days when YouTube didn’t require you to watch a commercial, bombard you with ads, and was just plain fun to visit? Personally, I can’t stand that site anymore (especially when the ads seem to stream just fine but then the video I want to watch only loads 1/8 of the way in 10min). The point is, YouTube needed to bring a return for their investors, and we are seeing the result of that today with a rather unappealing user experience.

The same can be said for Facebook. It its purest form, it was pretty awesome (for those that can remember). Post pictures that your parents would never see, comment on a wall here or there and view someone’s relationship status. No pesky ads, no concerns about personal data being leaked or sold – just harmless procrastination. Fast forward to today and we have corporations begging people to “like” them, ads on every page, our personal information being leveraged for advertisers, and parents everywhere asking: “why didn’t you like my status?”

While I am no means a fortune teller, I am pretty good at spotting patterns. MOOCs are likely heading in this direction. Sure their monetization models may look different than YouTube or Facebook, but one common theme is that monetization always seems to impact user experience. I would love to think that MOOCs would be above this given their underlying mission, and perhaps in some ways it will be (or risk losing the participation of schools like Princeton), but I think it is safe to say that a change will occur – Here’s to hoping it doesn’t go the way of MySpace.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

6 Comments
  1. Posted a reply on your LinkedIn post to this blog entry.

    You are talking about MOCs, not MOOCs. The second “O”- open- is significantly different in the designs for these schools that a true MOOC.

  2. Justin,
    This is an interesting post (not that your others aren’t), in that the recent boom in what you term “MOOCs” is actually a throw-back to the old distance learning days when video became a cheap enough or common technology. Course developers instantly jumped on the bandwagon to capture video footage of boring classroom lectures given to dozens or hundreds of bored, disinterested students.

    Later, the community of professional educators and instructional designers realized that using a new medium to deliver bad content was not an effective solution. Wow, this déjà vu all over again. Most of the example course offerings that I have reviewed are nothing but a modern version of the old VHS video attempt to capture a live classroom event. Not only does this violate ID standards for replicating classroom delivery in a different distance-learning medium, it gives online learning a bad taste to the uninitiated who experience this very bad example.

    My dissertation research topic deals with documenting the comparative application of ID principles and quality standards in developing both the online and traditional classroom college courses. One anticipated hypothesis is that a significant variation can be found (ignoring ID standards) in traditional classroom courses. Now this attempt by Stanford, U of M, Duke, and Princeton is broadcasting some of these very non-standard developed courses to the World as an example of “online learning.”

    I almost disagree with your comment that “MOOCs are here to stay.” I would prophesy that, as they are in their present (bad) form, MOOCs will gain attention and notoriety (as did VHS classrooms), and then quietly fade away into historical obscurity when once again the profession community begins to publicize their poor quality. Too many accepted qualities of good learning environments are missing: peer-to-peer interaction, social learning, drill-and-practice, teacher-student interaction, quality assessment of learning goals, etc. I propose that universities are experimenting with MOOCs because they see this as an economical form of brand marketing and advertisement.

    I hope the current MOOC model dies quickly, replaced by a better model that is based on educational psychology and accepted quality standards. I frequently deal with customers who need training developed, but shy away from any online solution because the only distance-learning examples they have personally experienced are VHS classroom, and early programmed instruction methods.

    In regards to your comments on the monetization models similar to YouTube or Facebook, I say… why not? Education is an expensive enterprise. eLearning is theoretically less expensive to produce and maintain, but still has an associated cost. Perhaps a similar advertisement embedded model could support a virtual university model. However, my stress is on the quality of the content and delivery media (yes, plural) to facilitate multiple preferred learning styles.

  3. I agree with rtanner14 above

    We have an educational learning system that is broken (its teacher centric and is not proven learning research based) and we are throwing educator palatable, band aid fixes at a problem that needs a major overhaul

    If the Khan Adademy and MOC’s (& MOOC’s), for example, are not completely grounded in research proven, learner centric, learning methodology, how can we expect advanced student learning outcomes?

    The strategic question in education (and learning in general) remains how does a individual student most effectively and efficiently learn, transfer and apply, long term, critical must know information, to advance long term, individual performance improvement outcomes?

    For example, look at the mission/vision of Chicago Public Schools, then look at how they are meeting that vision (not so good):

    Today, CPS is charged with a simple mission – provide students with a world-class education in every community and ensure they graduate college and career ready. That starts by having an honest dialogue about the quality of education in our schools and talking about how we can work together to make sure the needs of our children come first as we move forward with reinventing CPS to boost the academic success of our students…

    http://www.cps.edu/Spotlight/Documents/AchievementGapCPSTrends.pdf

    Chicago Board of Education Vision:

    “We transform lives by building a foundation for excellence and a pathway for every member of the CPS community to dream, achieve and contribute to a global society”.

    http://www.cps.edu/About_CPS/The_Board_of_Education/Pages/TheChicagoBoardofEducation.aspx

    Despite Some Progress Made, Chicago Public Schools is Not Meeting the Needs of Students for College Readiness, Graduation Rates and Closing Achievement Gaps:

    http://www.cps.edu/Spotlight/Documents/AchievementGapCPSTrends.pdf

    Will band-aid marketing solutions, not fully grounded in proven learning research, that don’t effectively advance individual learning outcomes, consistent with advanced individual performance improvement outcomes solve the learning, transfer and application problem…I think not

    Education and learning is not a fad. We are following the wrong examples and not approaching the real reasons why education and learning are failing our students

    Our educators are traditionally subject matter experts and are not learning, transfer and application experts. Learning must become a priority

    Out education systems are traditionally teacher centric. They must become student learner centric.

    We know better, but we accept window dressing solutions to solve a far bigger problem.

    It’s obvious that educators are interested in protecting the status quo (it’s human nature).

    They are not independent contractors, they are public servants, serving us and we deserve better learning and performance outcomes.

    A passive approach brings minimal change. Massive change is what’s prescribed.

  4. Kajal Sengupta

    Though I agree with Justin’s frustrations about annoying ads on FB pages or Youtube videos he does not deny that they were a pleasure to use in the past. I am curious to know what anybody would do to continue with such sites where you allow people to benefit but does not have a revenue model? Should we not remember that there is nothing called free lunch in this world. I would be happy if you could give some positive suggestions.

  5. Justin,
    Thanks for an alternative p.o.v. it is useful for the discussion:)

    There are many funding models out there – like:
    1. the membership model ( sakai, merlot, open courseware)
    2. the endowment model ( interest gained goes to funding)
    3. donations (wikipedia, apache)
    4. conversion model (give something away for free, charge for upgrade)
    5. contributor pay model (if u are contributor, then u pay cost for maintaining the source)
    6. sponsorship
    7. institutional model (MIT – it is part of their mandate to provide learning to the masses)
    8. Govt. funding model ( similar – govt. mandate)

    This info can be attributed to Stephen Downes http:www.stephendownes.ca

    Thanks,
    Jill

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