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.”
In addition to the way in which MOOCs have or have not influenced higher education, I think it is important to consider exactly how people are choosing to use MOOCs:
- Recognizing that MOOCs typically do not confer formal college credit, many people are simply taking them to satisfy a knowledge quest. Shelly points out that 80% of MOOC enrollees already have a formal college degree.
- Starting a MOOC is one matter; finishing it is another matter. Shelly reports what has been commonly known, that only 4 to 15% of MOOC enrollees finish the course completely. As with so many other life endeavors, starting something is much easier than finishing.
Given the above observations, MOOCs simply need to be appreciated for what they are. The traditional university campus and the online university will continue to confer accredited degrees to their students who do the work. If the past quarter-century has taught us anything, it has definitely taught us that higher education is not in any way threatened. Higher education will continue to flourish as it takes advantage of the growing diversity of new platforms. Students will have more options from which to select their academic paths. We as a society will enjoy the benefit.