Much has been written about the recent trend of massive open online courses (MOOCs) in which college professors freely put their lectures and content on the Internet. This allows anyone to “enroll” in the course, although successful completion would not provide any formal college credit. Some observers predicted that MOOCs would be the end of higher education, as we know it. Traditional bricks-and-mortar campuses would disappear, and no one would pay for higher education. The reality is slightly different as Barbara Shelly explains (“A Lesson in Bold Claims Gone Bust.” The Kansas City Star. October 23, 2015, p. 9A):
“Whatever MOOCs aim to evolve into, they are not at this point a great equalizing force in higher education, or even a threat to traditional campus learning. The problem here was the hype, the baseless predictions that something offered for free could somehow prove sustainable, and the idea that a single phenomenon could change a hidebound institution.”
I agree with Shelly in that many have overreacted or overrated the MOOC model. Simultaneously, I disagree with Shelly in this regard: Although the hidebound institutions of academia will not necessarily be changed by a single phenomenon, I think that to some extent, that change has already happened.
Over the past couple decades, increasing numbers of colleges have created online options for degree completion. The common feature between MOOCs and online degree programs is that they are both online. They both use the Internet. They both exist in the virtual world. MOOCs certainly are not responsible for the surge in online higher education, but they are certainly a reflection of it. They were bound to happen eventually anyhow and they were bound to become players in the dynamically changing field of higher education. The environment was ripe for their development.
The last I checked, the environment is still ripe.