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.