Anyone who has been paying attention during the last year or so knows that MOOCs (massive open online courses) have garnered a tremendous amount of attention in education circles – not to mention from politicians trying to score points with taxpayers. Fearful of being left out in the cold, libraries are also trying to figure out ways they can get a piece of the action. (You can be sure that there will be a few concurrent sessions devoted to MOOCs at this year’s Charleston Conference.) But there are two recent articles that we have come across that point to both the compelling attractiveness of MOOCs as an educational option, as well as what may be some fatal flaws.
Appearing in the Business section of the British weekly Economist, Attack of the MOOCs acknowledges the paradigm shifting potential of these free online courses . As evidence the article notes the tremendous growth in course offerings, not to mention the venture capital pouring into Silicon start-ups like Coursera and Udacity. There are also numerous models emerging that hope to monetize MOOCs ranging from “charging to provide certificates for those who complete its courses” to providing training courses to interested companies to selling advertising space within courses. Some even think that textbook publishers may begin to offer MOOCs in an effort to sell their course related content.
Perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, academe is joining the MOOC revolution in an attempt to protect its turf. Not only have 83 universities worldwide formed partnerships with Coursera, non profit MOOC providers are starting to emerge like EdX, a joint effort started in May 2012 by Harvard University and MIT.
But cracks are beginning to appear. Attack of the MOOCs notes that MOOC drop out rates are substantial, in some cases exceeding a staggering 90%. And according to Will Oremus in his recent Slate article University Suspends Online Classes… after six months of operation, San Jose State suspended a Udacity partnership launched at hype filled press conference featuring Governor Jerry Brown. According to Oremus “the problem: more than half the students in the first batch of online courses failed their final exams.”
One has to wonder if such negative results will continue, and if so, will they be a barrier to university sponsored MOOCs ever being a major academic contributor. And what do they mean for possible library and publisher involvement? Given these issues is it too soon to jump on the bandwagon? Or should libraries and publishers go full speed ahead to support and try to profit from MOOCs? It’s a tough call. What do you think?