The Evolution of MOOCs

According to The New York Times, 2012 was the year of the MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. If this is the case, 2014 may be the year MOOCs are reimagined.

MOOCs were initially designed as a tool to educate the masses and provide general access to academia’s ivy towers. It is an admirable goal, but as MOOCs were launched and few students were actually completing the courses, some academic leaders were beginning to dismiss the idea of the disruptive MOOC.  While the academics may have doubted the future of MOOCs, schools are still experimenting and using MOOCs to their benefit.

Organizations like Coursera and Udacity started the MOOC sensation, but now more universities are using MOOCs alongside traditional classroom courses.  Georgia Tech has partnered with AT&T and Udacity to offer the first accredited Master’s program in Computer Science that will be taught exclusively through the MOOC format. The degree will cost students significantly less at $7,000 than if they were to take courses through the traditional residential program.

Along with Georgia Tech’s MOOC integration, other institutions have begun MOOC initiatives as well. MIT and Harvard teamed up to create edX, a shared MOOC platform for universities to offer a wide-range of courses for free. Coursera published courses for credit by Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland College. According to the New York Times, 160,000 students in 190 countries enrolled in an Artificial Intelligence course at Stanford last fall.

Universities are not only offering MOOCs, but they are learning about teaching from them. With large number of students taking one course, large amounts of data can be derived from what teaching methods work and what does not.

Many universities are also using MOOCs as an outreach tool. Harvard University announced in February that it would begin offering MOOCs exclusively to alumni. This will allow the university to keep alumni in the Harvard experience and strengthen its alumni network.

A study by Babson Survey Group found that nearly half of institutions that invest in MOOCs do so for outreach and marketing. Branding and recruit purposes is just another way in which MOOCs are now proving themselves to be a valuable tool for universities.

However, some university professors are not embracing MOOCs joining the college campus experience. San Jose University professors wrote an open letter to a Harvard professor explaining why they are refusing to teach the MOOC he developed for edX. Among other reasons, the San Jose professors stated “Professors who care about public education should not produce products that will replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities.”

In the same vein, a star MOOC professor, Mitchell Duneier, recently told the Chronicle of Higher Education that he would no longer teach his MOOC class out of fear that such courses would undermine funding for public education.

As universities figure out what to do with the technology of MOOCs, 2014 will continue to see different applications of online courses. It is undeniable that schools are using them in more ways than one and they will continue to go through changes as the technology is realized.


Photo by Mathieu Plourde, resized

Michelle Harven

Michelle Harven

Michelle is a current graduate student at Emerson College and an intern at Boston's public radio station. She enjoys exploring the world of educational technology and writing about the ever-changing sector and its potential.