After reading a blog post claiming that MOOCs are dead, dying or on the downturn, I sighed and typed “premature obituary” into Google. It brought me to the Wikipedia entry, which explains nine different types of premature obituaries ranging from a faked death to accidental publications, misidentified bodies to imposters, name confusion to brushes with death. For the next hour, I scanned the list of names and curious circumstances that led to premature obituaries about George W. Bush, Fidel Castro, Arthur Clark, Celine Dion, Madonna, Pele, Bertrand Russell and Neil Young. So don’t feel badly my dear MOOCs. You are in good company. I don’t know if it was the mystery, novelty or the joy of seeing major media outlets getting it wrong, but I relished in this short diversion only to remember why I just spent an hour reading about this obscure topic. MOOCs are not dead.
Austin Kleon wrote, “If your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.” Similarly, if you are an educational trend and you don’t make it in the headlines for a few weeks, people think you’re dead or dying. They suspect that you were a passing fad, one more educational trend to come and go with little impact, proof that we shouldn’t be so quick to jump on the educational innovation bandwagon.
When I defended my first master’s thesis in the 1990s on the promise and possibilities of online learning for high school students, one of the committee members asked me about this educational fad called e-learning. He asked, “How do you know this isn’t just one more trend that is soon to pass?” I didn’t know. I suggested that it didn’t matter. I explained the potential benefits of online learning for specific student populations. If you are wearing a sweater because it is good at keeping you warm, you don’t always have to worry about whether it is in style. It is getting the job done, so you use it until something better comes along. That seemed like a good enough answer to me. It worked for him too, so I passed. We also decided that we would just need to touch base again in ten or twenty years and see how it turned out. That one turned out pretty well, especially give that some are now predicting that half of all high school courses may be online by 2019.
MOOCs are not dead. They are not dying. They not even on the decline. They may not seem to be as flashy in the headlines, but maybe that is because headlines are about trends. Headlines are probably not the best measure of what will stick. There was that small minority of MOOC evangelists who claimed that MOOCs were a sign that the University as we know it was dying, so maybe a few recent articles about the decline of MOOCs is a way for University evangelists to get back at them. Ignore the extreme claims about MOOCs and just look at what is happening.
- There are signs of partner Universities using MOOCs as training courses for high school students to prepare for AP tests (instead of taking the regular course in high school).
- More generally, we are seeing more projects that seek to serve high school students with MOOCs.
- There is still a stead stream of new MOOC press releases from Universities around the world, including many schools that are just getting involved, offering their first MOOCs.
- There are growing experiments with different types of MOOC designs, like UW Madison including some blended learning elements.
- Coursera continues to launch MOOCs for new target audiences, including a series of vocational specializations with paid certificate tracks.
- There are fascinating attempts to use MOOCs to address public health issues like Ebola.
- Recent research on students in MOOCs show equal learning gains between the persisting MOOC students and the persisting face-to-face students.
- The push toward MOOCs for credits continues.
- Coursera received 85 million in venture capital, with 20 million of that coming in the last twelve months.
Fan or skeptic, the MOOC movement is alive and well, with ongoing signs of innovation, experimentation, new methods and markets. Expect to see even more over the upcoming years. After all, MOOCs are really just a blend of two educational development that have a long history and evidence of a solid future: online learning and open learning.