This is the sixth article in my series Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2015

From The Wall Street Journal in June, “Daphne Koller on the Future of Online Education”:

“If you put an instructor to sleep 300 years ago and woke him up in a classroom today, he’ll say, ‘Oh, I know exactly where I am,’” says Daphne Koller, co-founder of the online-education company Coursera.

Of course, if you put a reader of The Wall Street Journal to sleep 3 years ago, during “The Year of the MOOC,” and woke him up and showed him an article quoting Daphne Koller today, he’ll say, “Oh, I know exactly where I am.”…

Is the MOOC Hype Fading?

There were plenty of headlines this year that declared that all the hullaballoo about MOOCs, massive open online courses, was dissipating. And ah, the irony: after spending the last few years incessantly covering the supposed promise of MOOCs, the education press found itself incessantly covering “the MOOC revolution that wasn’t” as well. (Disclosure: okay, that last link was written by me.) “The Hype is Dead, but MOOCs Are Marching On,” according to Coursera investor the University of Pennsylvania.

And MOOCs – and online education in general – marched on indeed, still with plenty of marketing spin (although often phrased, in the headline at least, in the form of a question). “Can an Online Teaching Tool Solve One of Higher Education's Biggest Headaches?” asked Slate. “Can Online Education Help Refugees Earn Degrees?” asked The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Can online classrooms help the developing world catch up?” asked The Verge guest-editor Bill Gates. “Can MOOCs Better Help Women in Developing Countries?” asked Edsurge.

Oh sure, some folks who’d previously predicted “the end of college as we know it” dialed it back a little this year, suggesting instead that “Online Education May Be Poised To Take Off.”

All in all, there was still plenty of hype in 2015 about MOOCs and other online education initiatives, often involving (no surprise) the same elite universities the media’s been focused on all along. Take this story from Fortune, for example: “Harvard Business School really has created the classroom of the future.” “Truth be told, an HBX Live session is more a show than a class.” The future of education indeed.

Wait, What’s a “MOOC”?

The definition of “MOOC” has always been contentious, as some have tried to distinguish it from a broader notion of “online education” and some have tried to retain MOOC’s connectivist origins, namely by separating free and open courses from the more commonly closed and VC-funded ones.

It’s no surprise that the attention that MOOCs have received prompts many folks to continue to invoke the acronym, even when the course in question is neither massive nor open nor even online. The University of Michigan, for example, launched a “residential MOOC” this year – with enrollment available only to UM students (just 800 of them), with face-to-face classes with course content conceived like “a TV show, every week a new episode.”

Perhaps MOOCs are just adapting, you could argue. I guess. MIT’s OTTO Scharmer sure did, pronouncing in May “MOOC 4.0” (to which Seattle Pacific University’s Rolin Moe deftly responded, “MOOC 4.No.”

The variation in MOOCs doesn’t just come from adding version numbers to the end. Oh no. The University of Nottingham, for example, trademarked “NOOC” (short for “Nottingham Open Online Course”) this year. The trademark sought to cover usage of “NOOC” on beer mats, gift wrap, pencil sharpeners, CD-ROMs, and much, much more. And copy-and-pasted from the press release to this article without comment: “The world’s first GROOC – a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for groups – co-created by internationally renowned management expert Henry Mintzberg will be launched by McGill University and edX.”

Such innovation.

The Business of MOOCs and Online Education

One way to judge whether or not the hype of MOOCs truly faded in 2015 might be to look at headlines in the media. One way might be to look at press releases and “market research,” such as the fabulous contentions that MOOCs will earn $1.5 billion in revenue this year and that MOOCs will be a $8.5 billion industry by 2020.

And one way to judge MOOC hype is to examine how much attention their providers are still getting from financiers. (No doubt, there’s a connection between PR and VC, as I surmised earlier this year when a series of positive stories in the media about Udacity prompted me to speculate that the company was out fundraising. Sure enough, it was.)

I’ll cover “the business of ed-tech” in the last article in this series, but let me note here: of the top twenty largest rounds of funding in 2015 (at the time that I’m writing this article at least), only seven were not online education companies (or training or tutoring or test-prep companies – the distinctions do get murky)… and one of those seven, General Assembly, does offer some online classes.

The biggest investments of 2015 in online education startups:

(Many of the companies on that list are Chinese; I’ll have more to say about the Chinese ed-tech boom in “The Business of Ed-Tech” article in this series. But it’s worth pointing out here that Coursera in particular has made concerted efforts to expand its presence in China this year, launching a Chinese language specialization among other things.)

On the list above are the three startups probably most closely associated with the MOOC craze – Udacity, Coursera, and Udemy. These three have now raised $160 million, $146.1 million, and $113 million respectively. With this year’s investment, Udacity also became a “unicorn,” that is, a startup with a valuation of at least $1 billion.

It wasn’t all sunny in “the business of MOOC”-land, however. Amplify, which had a pretty disastrous year all around, sold off its computer science AP MOOC to unnamed investors for an undisclosed amount of money.

I’ll have more to say throughout this article on university partnerships with various online education providers, but FutureLearn, UK’s MOOC platform, also received a funding injection this year: £13 million from the Open University. David Kernohan does an excellent job analyzing “FutureLearn finance,” which do need to be considered alongside some of the financial struggles that the OU itself faced this year.

Another old and well-established distance education university that might be in trouble: Athabasca. (Maybe. Maybe not.)

For those institutions looking how to make money from online courses, Edsurge published some innovative advice, suggesting that schools charge for them.

A Few Partnerships and Special Deals

In the early days of the MOOC hype, my year-in-review posts chronicled all the various universities which were clamoring to be seen as partners with edX and Coursera. There was still a bit of that this year: Coursera’s new partnerships, for example, included Tomsk State University, National Research Nuclear University, Novosibirsk State University, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Yonsei University, Institut Mines-Telecom, and The University of Cape Town. FutureLearn’s new partners included Complutense University, Durham University, University of Manchester, Keio University, and the University of New South Wales. Purdue joined edX. Despite being a founding member and investor in Coursera, the University of Pennsylvania also joined edX. The University of Michigan, also a founding member of Coursera, joined edX as well. (Inside Higher Ed offered an explanation as to why colleges are “double-dipping” with MOOC providers. tl;dr: universities are covering their bases with their MOOC investments.)

If we look beyond the best-known MOOC platforms, we can see a number of other partnerships struck between universities and education companies – “outsourcing” might be the better word:

Yale announced this year it was “partnering” with 2U to offer a blended Master’s Degree for physician’s assistants. (The deal ran into some accreditation issues that were eventually sorted out, pleasing 2U’s investors greatly.)

edX said it was collaborating with Qualcomm to further develop “edX’s MOOC mobile capabilities and enhance its open source platform to benefit connected learners around the world.”

Alibaba and Peking University announced they were launching a MOOC platform.

Starbucks said it would expand its partnership with ASU Online. (That is, Starbucks employees can now apply for tuition reimbursements for all four years of a degree at the school.) (More about ASU Online below.)

The University of Oklahoma partnered with the History Channel, much to the chagrin of historians at the school, because if there’s one thing you won’t find much of on the History Channel, it’s history.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported this fall that “HBCUs Aren’t Sold on Course Partnerships With U. of Phoenix.”

And of course, where there’s a booming business in ed-tech, there’s Pearson. FutureLearn announced it had signed a deal with Pearson to have the education giant handle administration of its MOOC tests. The University of Exeter became the first UK university to partner with Pearson to offer online classes. But things don’t always work out so well – for online education initiatives or for Pearson: The University of Florida cancelled its massive contract with Pearson that would have had the the company brings the school’s degree programs online.

(I suppose I should include an update here on Unizin, the university consortium that launched last year, promising to “enhance colleges’ control of online courses.” It’s been slow to do anything, and I’m still not clear that there’s a “therethere. Not that that stops ed-tech hype, of course.)

Online Education Product Upgrades

Here are a few of the exciting MOOC product updates from 2015:

  • The arts-oriented MOOC platform Kadenze launched an LMS called Kannu.
  • "Open edX, the open source platform from edX, is now available for free* from the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Marketplace (*AWS usage fees apply).
  • The publisher Springer said it would offer some MOOC students discounts on some textbooks.
  • Chinese MOOC students no longer need to use a credit card to pay for their Coursera certificates since the company partnered with the Chinese online payment platform Alipay.
  • You can watch Coursera videos on the new Apple TV.
  • You can watch MOOC lectures on Jet Blue and on Virgin Airlines. (The Onion had the best “take” on this news.)
  • edX made it possible for instructors on its platform to add Creative Commons licenses to their courses. Because “open.”
  • Coursera launched “on demand” courses, that is MOOCs with flexible start dates and deadlines.
  • And look at that. “Certain courses” on Coursera will no longer be free.

Such innovation.

Legal Troubles and other Downgrades

I realize that in the face of such impressive advances in online education, it’s hard to fathom any fumbles. And yet…

In February, the National Association of the Deaf sued Harvard and MIT, the founders of edX, under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The complaint contended that the universities violated that act by failing to (among other things) close caption MOOCs.

In April, edX settled with the Justice Department over charges that its materials were not accessible to the disabled. “According to the terms of the agreement, edX will make its website and learning-management system fully accessible to the disabled within 18 months; ensure that the system used to create online courses is also accessible within 18 months; and create two new positions to oversee accessibility, among other things. As part of the agreement, edX denied it was not in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act,” the Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

I wrote quite a bit in the previous article in this series about legal and legislative actions taken against for-profit higher education companies. At the K–12 level, the target of similar efforts is often K12, Inc, known for its abysmal academic outcomes. In June, “A group of 16 California teachers filed formal letters of complaint against online charter schools operated by K12 Inc., alleging violations including misuse of public funds and breaches of student privacy rights,” Bloomberg Business reported. In November, Buzzfeed reported that California’s Attorney General was investigating K12.

Despite these investigations, a headline from Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy on K12 Inc – perhaps on much of for-profit online education – rings true: “How Controversial Online Charter Schools Push Aside Their Opponents.” It helps to have powerful political allies, I suppose. Related: “Coursera, K12 Make Bold Moves to Drive Learning,” according to the Clayton Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn.

Contents May Include…

As I’ve argued in a previous article in this series, there is a concerted effort to reframe education as “workforce training” with an emphasis on “high tech skills.” MOOCs with founders in artificial intelligence labs at Stanford and MIT have done well to tap into that very narrative.

But online education isn’t only about “learning to code,” even if “learning to code” seems to draw the lion’s share of attention. Other topics from online courses that made the news in 2015: “philanthropy” (MOOCs to teach people how to donate their money); art; humanities; the Iowa Presidential Caucuses; superheroes“ (and hey, I finished this MOOC!); the TV show The Strain; US History; contemporary American poetry; education reform; the Kennedy family (and this particular MOOC was noteworthy as the first to be nominated for an Emmy Award. The future of ed-tech remains TV); bias in the tech workplace (an online course offered by Facebook, which continues to do quite poorly when it comes to diversity in the workplace, but why would that stop it from teaching a class, amirite); medical education (shudder); and Mao Zedong (”propaganda“ according to The New York Times and Inside Higher Ed. Or perhaps ”transparency and openness," according to George Veletsianos).

And here’s another business opportunity for ed-tech providers: the Corrective Education Company offers online courses for those busted for shoplifting. In Slate’s words,

Imagine you’re browsing at Bloomingdale’s when a security guard taps you on the shoulder and accuses you of shoplifting. He takes you to a private room, sits you down, and runs your name through a database to see if you have any outstanding warrants. Then he tells you that you have two options. The first involves him calling the police, who might arrest you and take you to jail. The second allows you to walk out of the store immediately, no questions asked – right after you sign an admission of guilt and agree to pay $320 to take an online course designed to make you never want to steal again.

Who’s Enrolling? (And Who’s Completing?)

The media’s fascination with the “massiveness” of MOOCs continued throughout 2015, as various schools and providers boasted that they’d set records for the “biggest ever.” The BBC reported that FutureLearn had some 370,000 students enrolled in a British Council course preparing for an English language test. And Edsurge reported in September that “Udacity, Coursera and edX Now Claim Over 24 Million Students.” Yes, people still sign up for MOOCs, and The Chronicle of Higher Education was on it.

Meanwhile, Politico reported this fall that “Virtual schools are booming. Who’s paying attention?” It’s a good question, because as much attention as MOOCs have received in recent years from the media, the rest of online education, particularly at the K–12 level, has not (necessarily) seen as much scrutiny. Or maybe people have forgotten all the times that it has.

Researchers, on the other hand, have long analyzed education technology – what works and for whom. I’ll explore the research on MOOCs and online education in more detail below, as scholars explored why students and what kinds of students enroll, for example.

This spring, a survey by the Instructional Technology Council found an increase in online enrollments at two-year colleges. But there were some high profile initiatives – ASU Online’s partnership with Starbucks and the University of Florida Online, for example – that failed to meet their enrollment goals.

(Elsewhere in Florida: the University of Central Florida boasted “mega-classes” this year, “enrolling in one case nearly four times as many students as their assigned classrooms can seat and students sprawled in the aisles.” But you can watch the videos streaming online so that’s fun for those who’ve actually paid to attend a residential school.)

There were some hints early this year based on previous years’ IPEDS data that this idea that online education programs would continue to expand might be flawed. (Perhaps the MOOC hype clouded folks’ judgment and expectations?) From Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill: “No Discernible Growth in US Higher Ed Online Learning.”

You could be forgiven for assuming that the continued growth of online education within US higher ed was a foregone conclusion. We all know it’s happening; the questions is how to adapt to the new world.

But what if the assumption is wrong? Based on the official Department of Education / NCES new IPEDS data for Fall 2013 term, for the first time there has been no discernible growth in postsecondary students taking at least one online course in the US.

Hill also examined the IPEDS data to identify the schools with the largest online enrollments:

  1. University of Phoenix
  2. Liberty University
  3. Ashford University
  4. Kaplan
  5. American Public University
  6. Grand Canyon University
  7. Walden University
  8. DeVry University
  9. Western Governors University
  10. Everest College

For-profits dominate Hill’s list, although these institutions – most of them at least – also experienced significant declines in distance education enrollment.

Despite the enrollment figures – up or down, concerns remain about completion rates in online courses, particularly in MOOCs. A recent story in The Wall Street Journala> about Udacity's partnership with Georgia Tech for an online master's degree in computer science notes that just twenty of the 380 students who initially enrolled in the program have graduated.

This year, there were several efforts to spur students’ to finish their MOOCs through extrinsic motivation (and some argue that making students pay for classes will be sufficient to keep them on task): $1000 in Amazon Web Services, for example, for completing edX's Entrepreneurship 101 and 102 courses or a piece of comic art signed by Stan Lee for completing edX’s Superheroes class. (I confess: this was on my mind when I stuck with what I thought was a pretty unsatisfactory MOOC.)

It’s not that shocking (but it’s pretty gross) since “grit” has become such a popular buzzword in education reform that students who fail to finish MOOCs were accused by some of having “limited self control.”

Credits and Financial Aid

I’ve already looked in some detail in this year-end series on “credits and credentialing.” Whether offered by accredited or unaccredited providers, whether Bachelor’s degrees or “nanodegrees,” we always come back around to debates about whether or not completing these online courses “count.” Do they have “integrity,” as Hillary Clinton asked on the campaign trail? Will schools accept them? Will employers?

Certainly ed-tech startups and the tech press want us to believe that, yes, employers will. As The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote in February, “Meet the New, Self-Appointed MOOC Accreditors: Google and Instagram.”

MOOC and other online providers did boast partnerships made in order to boost graduates’ employment chances – not just with Google and Instagram, but with Snapdeal and Shazam. (Yes, these partnerships mostly involve the tech sector.) Coursera wrote on its own blog that “Top Companies Work with University Partners to Help Create Capstone Projects with Real World Applications,” and no doubt this re-inscribes what I’ve called “the employability narrative” where the curriculum of higher education is shaped by employers’ demands. This close connection with corporate partners will, according to Inside Higher Ed at least, also underwrite Coursera’s newly found business model.

Further aiding Coursera’s outlook for revenue: charging for courses and certificates. Coursera says that it has its own financial aid fund that students can apply for in order to pay for their certificates, and of course, the Department of Education announced an experiment this year that would make MOOCs and other “alternate ed-tech providers” eligible for federal financial aid.

Financial aid is one important consideration for students; whether or not these online classes actually count for credit and towards graduation is another. According to Edsurge, unlike Udacity and Coursera’s corporate partnerships, edX has opted to “double down on creating higher quality, personalized and virtually proctored learning experiences that can be offered for credit to learners on a path towards a degree.”

In January, Steven Klinsky, founder of the private equity firm New Mountain Capital, donated $1 million to edX with the hopes of making the freshmen year of college - or at least some edX classes - free.

In April, Arizona State University announced that it had partnered with edX to offer a freshmen year of college via MOOCs. Dubbed “the Global Freshmen Academy,” students will pay $200 per credit hour (so $600 for a three-credit course), plus a $45 identity verification fee per class. “The catch,” The Chronicle of Higher Education reported: there’s no financial aid. Another “catch”: that’s more expensive than community college. Another “catch”: apparently ASU hadn’t run this plan by its accreditor when it made the announcement. Inside Higher Ed made a public records request for the edX-Arizona State University contract because you always need to read the Terms of Service, man.

The news prompted “Dean Dad” Matt Reed to ask “what problem are ASU and edX solving?” Also from Reed, some “further thoughts” and some dismay about how transfer credits will be accepted (that is, when accompanied by a fee).

In September, the Texas State University System announced a “Freshman Year for Free” program in which “students can earn a full year of credit through massive open online courses offered by edX and coordinated by a new nonprofit called the Modern States Education Alliance. The only costs to students would be either Advanced Placement or College Level Examination Program tests, which would be passed after completing various MOOCs. Appropriate scores would be required on the tests to receive credit from Texas State campuses.”

In October, MIT announced a “MicroMaster’s,” in which students could get half their degree via MOOCs. (That is, a master’s degree in supply chain management.)

Elsewhere in MOOCs (and online courses) for credit: California Institute of the Arts, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Charter Oak State College. For its part, Western Governors University said it had begun referring “underprepared” students to StraighterLine, an unaccredited online education provider.

Teaching Online

Some faculty have expressed concerns about the implications of the MOOC hype, particularly when it comes to their job security. (Faculty aren’t alone in their complaints, particularly as sites turn to the free labor of “crowdsourcing” in lieu of paying people for their work.) Comments like this don’t help, from an interview in the Financial Times this summer: “Mr Thrun knows what he doesn’t want for his company; professors in tenure, which he claims limits the ability to react to market demands.” Thrun referred to Udacity again and again in the media as “Uber for education),” an analogy with all sorts of negative implications: privacy issues, a reluctance if not refusal to accommodate people with disabilities, and a dismantling of legal and labor protections.

There were some efforts to protect faculty and to reward rather than scare them into (or away from) teaching online. In March, The Daily Illini reported that the University of Illinois Senate Executive Committee had passed a resolution that professors should be paid for developing and teaching MOOCs. In April, Academic Partnerships said it would share tuition revenue with faculty at its partner institutions.

But there were still plenty of signs that neither universities nor third-party education providers have quite worked out all the details of the labor and IP issues surrounding MOOCs and online courses. SZ International wrote about how Paul-Oliver Dehaye was stripped of control of his Coursera class. Inside Higher Ed followed up on the sexual harassment charges against MIT physics professor Walter Lewin, which reportedly started “day one” of his edX course. It also looked at what will happen to Lewin’s “legacy” after MIT deleted all of its lecture videos from Lewin’s courses. The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote about Jen Ebbeler’s story about the development of the UT Austin class “Introduction to Ancient Rome”: “When Your Online Course Is Put Up for Adoption.” The Portland Press Herald recently explored what happens to an online course when the professor dies. And Udemy, which has boasted that its top instructors make millions of dollars selling courses on its “MOOC” platform, found itself the subject of several angry blog posts when instructors on other online education platforms complained that their courses were being pirated there. “Of course people are ripping off online courses,” Vice’s Sarah Jeong wrote in response (to which I mutter something about the lack of Creative Commons licensing in MOOCs and some providers’ penchant for “openwashing.”)

Remember back in 2013 when Slate imagined that celebrities would teach MOOCs? This year it was a Campus Technology article: “When Actors Replace Instructors as On-Camera Talent.” And speaking of celebrities, from The New York Times: “How to Take a Class From Serena Williams and Usher.” These headline-grabbing stories aside, “The average instructor of a massive open online course is most likely to be a white man in his 50s with two decades of experience in academe but none in online education, according to a study by researchers at Indiana University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”

In other news about the labor and costs of online education: “MOOC development more expensive than many think.” But I think by now most of us realize that MOOCs are not so cheap after all.


Continuing a trend from 2014, there was a substantial amount of research published this year about MOOCs and about online education more broadly. Of course, when I write my weekly round-up of education news, I always put quotation marks around the word “research” to underscore the differences between peer-reviewed academic research, market research, and so on. Too often, the media parrots press releases without really interrogating methodology or results.

Here’s a sampling of some of the “research” that gleaned headlines this year (which, as you can see, is often quite contradictory):

What public media reveals about MOOCs: A systematic analysis of news reports” in the British Journal of Educational Technology.

Research on online education – “Preparing for the Digital University” – was published by George Siemens, Dragan Gašević, and Shane Dawson. Stephen Downes responded in the OLDaily. George Siemens responded on Twitter. Downes then responded in a blog post. Siemens then responded to the responses in a blog post. Then George Veletsianos weighed in. And Downes had some more to say as did Siemens.

NPR reported that “A Wellesley College and University of Maryland study finds Sesame Street has a big impact on how well kids do in school. Children who watch the show are less likely to fall behind in later grades.” Edsurge, along with many publications, went with a MOOC-related headline: “The Original MOOC: Can Sesame Street Replace Preschool?.” Of course, Sesame Street is pretty much the opposite of the VC-funded MOOCs, in part because it was designed by education researchers, not software engineers. By me: “No, Sesame Street Is Not the First MOOC.”

MIT and Harvard released what they called “one of the largest investigations of massive open online courses (MOOCs) to date,” analysis of 68 MOOCs and 1.7 million students in courses that the two schools offered between July 2012 and September 2014. (Here are Justin Reich’s thoughts on the research.)

Research from Justin Reich and John Hansen on socioeconomic status and MOOC enrollees found, among other things, that “Overall, HarvardX registrants tend to reside in more affluent neighborhoods.” This research was recently published in Science.

MIT and Harvard published research on how people cheat in MOOCs. (That is, they create multiple accounts. Inconceivable, I know.)

According to a study by CREDO, cyber charter schools have an “overwhelmingly negative impact.”

There’s little evidence that online credit recovery programs are effect, according to the Shanker Institute.

Students in MOOCs self-report MOOCs work. 87% said they felt MOOCs benefited their career. (Just 33% said there were tangible career benefits.) 88% said there were educational benefits. (Just 18% said there were tangible educational benefits.) The study, based on a survey of Coursera students, is framed by Coursera thusly: “Coursera Study Shows Positive Career and Educational Outcomes for Learners.” (But as the survey only had a 6% response rate, I'm not sure you can claim anything at all based on it.)

MOOC review site Class Central published a report on how much studying students in free online classes do. (Spoiler alert: less than students in traditional college courses do.)

MOOC review site Coursetalk published a report on “What Reviews Divulge About Online Education.” The reviews, it says, are overwhelming positive.

From a paper titled “Changing Distributions: How Online College Classes Alter Student and Professor Performance”: “Using an instrumental variables approach and data from DeVry University, this study finds that, on average, online course-taking reduces student learning by one-third to one-quarter of a standard deviation compared to conventional in-person classes. Taking a course online also reduces student learning in future courses and persistence in college.”

According to a study by the American Economic Association, “increases in online class size have no impact on student grades, student persistence in the course or the likelihood of students enrolling in future courses.”

“There’s No Substitute for In-Person Lectures,” Pacific Standard reported, summarizing a paper that found “that students who watched a videotaped lecture recalled less of the material, and felt less engaged in the subject, than they did after sitting through a similar live lesson.”

There’s “no significance difference” between the learning outcomes in face-to-face and hybrid courses, according to research by Ithaka S+R.

The Gates Foundation hired SRI Education to evaluate the ed-tech investments that it has made. Among the findings: "Online courses in which students’ dominant role was solving problems or answering questions had more positive effects than those where most of the students’ time was spent reading text or listening to lecture videos."

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon said they’d discovered that “In Online Courses, Students Learn More by Doing Than by Watching.”

(This is also known as Reich’s Law: students who do stuff tend to do more stuff and tend to do stuff better.)

So, What Have MOOCs Changed?

So here are the promises I think most commonly invoked as part of the great MOOC hype: that MOOCs will democratize education, that MOOCs will be free, that MOOCs will decrease the cost of college, that MOOCs will improve universities’ brand (and enrollment). Three years after “the Year of the MOOC,” these all seem like unfulfilled promises.

So after all the hype and all the hoopla and all the headlines and all the investment and all the students and all the research, we find ourselves still asking “have MOOCs helped or hurt?

“Cut Through the Hype, and MOOCs Still Have Had a Lasting Impact,” The Chronicle of Higher Education insists.

Part of that impact, some argue, involves investment in teaching improvements – both online and off. And so while some might not see MOOCs themselves as good investments, no doubt they have prompted schools to rethink what their online presence will look like. (For better and for worse.)

The Open University’s Martin Weller has already predicted that 2016 will be “the year of MOOC hard questions” as universities really scrutinize whether or not these investments in online education have paid off (and paid off in the ways that the MOOCs’ biggest corporate providers/cheerleaders have promised they would). We shall see.

And if not, then “when the MOOC is Over,” turn out the lights…

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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