MOOCs and the Trough of Disillusionment

The MOOC honeymoon seems to be over. 2012 was its year of stardom and then in 2013, it was the time to bash them. And 2014 is the year to...?

If you accept Gartner's methodology of "Hype Cycles" of how a technology evolves over time, then before 2012 (2011 or earlier) was the "Technology Trigger." MOOCs got started and we heard the occasional story of proof-of-concept example via a few articles. There were no products or platforms or business models.

In 2012 (called "The Year of the MOOC" by the NY Times) things began to shift. We started to hear about things like Coursera and more and more universities began to launch courses using vendors or on their own.

In late 2012, and then more so in 2013, we probably entered the "Peak of Inflated Expectations." All that press for the success stories brought on the inevitable stories of failures. Sometimes it was a single course, sometimes the whole program at a university and sometimes an entire provider. Udacity is an example of the latter, as its founder basically threw in the towel and said that MOOCs might be better suited to corporate training than college education.

So, perhaps we are this year in the "Trough of Disillusionment."  I have been working on a chapter for a book on MOOCs and one of the most difficult parts of the writing has been how things have changed since I first started writing only six months ago. Interest in the MOOC is definitely waning rather than waxing right now. The implementations that failed to deliver get more attention than the more successful experiments. I suspect that the amount of time and money to be invested in MOOCs this year may be less than in 2013.

Am I disappointed?  Not really. Surprised? No.

I accept the basic premise of those tech cycles. And if there is some validity to them, then we are going to work our way out of the slough this year. (A slough, by the way, is literally a swamp or side channel only sporadically filled with water. Figuratively, it means a situation characterized by lack of progress or activity.)

Hopefully, by the end of this year we will be climbing the "Slope of Enlightenment." We will need to be able to showcase some MOOC examples that consistently benefit students and institutions. The next generation providers and platforms will need to appear and some new enterprise investments will need to exist.

It may take a few years for us to reach any type of "Plateau of Productivity" where there is wide and mainstream adoption of MOOC learning. We don't even have clear criteria for assessing these offerings right now - but it is coming. The disruption has occurred. That was good. Now we need to see what can be built from there.

Here is a presentation on MOOC progress by Una Daly, who I have worked with in the past on efforts to bring open educational resources (particularly open textbooks) up that Slope of Enlightenment.


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