Since 2011, major news and media outlets have devoted substantial attention to the rise of Massive Online Open Courses, better known as “MOOCs.” Journalists and educators alike have lauded startups like Udacity, Coursera and edX—primarily for their aims to make high-quality education both accessible and affordable—and have written extensively on a new education landscape, where everyone—no matter their location, age, or educational background—can learn from the world’s best.
While MOOCs may offer a potential solution to postsecondary inequality and the rising costs of a college education, they have not, so far, delivered large-scale benefits to new learners or to marginalized populations. Truth is, the overwhelming majority of MOOCs have dismal completion rates and/or cater to students already possessing college degrees. Moreover, many MOOCs fail to offer the interactive classroom experience that many students need, and do not provide the credits or credentials that prospective employers desire.
Despite their many limitations, MOOCs are here to stay, and deservedly so. These online courses are innovative, inexpensive and may one day transform higher education—but not yet. Like their brick-and-mortar predecessors, MOOC-providers must develop viable ways of supporting student learning and success. Until then, the rhetoric around MOOC education won’t match reality.
Improving educational technology is one thing; using technology to improve education (and society) is quite another.