We had 2012 as the year of the MOOC, 2014 was probably the year of the MOOC maturation, and I’m calling it for 2016, the year that university Vice Chancellors and Principals start looking and saying “what are we getting for our investment again?”
This critical questioning has started somewhat, but largely money and university cooperation is still flowing. But I think we’ll have had long enough in 2016 to see if those investments have paid off. Here are five key areas that I predict we’ll see reported on, and will cause an investment rethink:
- MOOC education won’t be as cheap as envisaged – now we are seeing pricing models for MOOCs, it turns out that in order to amass enough credits for a degree, you’d end up paying quite a lot. The OU charges £15,000 for a full 360 point degree. That gives you tutor support, a whole dedicate support system, purposely designed material, and highly valued, recognised award. It’s difficult to match credit points with MOOCs, as they’re not couched in that way. But let’s say the Coursera specialisations are similar – currently their data science one is £307. You’d probably need about 12 of these to match a degree, so getting towards £4K. Still a lot cheaper, but you wouldn’t get a student loan, would lack all that support and they’re not really recognised. Maybe that price difference is sufficient, but it certainly isn’t the “educate the world for free” model.
- Producing MOOCs is expensive – initially, and rather naively, many thought MOOCs would be cheap to produce (like they thought e-learning would be cheap back in the late 1990s). Surprise! They’re not that cheap, particularly because unis often want them to be showcase products, rather than small scale experiments. This report put the cost between $152K and $244K. That racks up if you’re producing a lot of MOOCs.
- They’re not effective recruitment avenues – there’s lots of articles about how MOOCs could drive recruitment for universities, but little data on how many actual registrations they have led to. They have had long enough now to see whether they are effective marketing tools, and can compare them against other outlets (eg advertising) in pure dollars spent per recruited student. I don’t have any data on this, but I suspect we’ll start to see that they are not that effective. At the OU we found that iTunes U for instance was very ineffective at driving traffic to the university itself, because the iTunes brand trumped the University one effectively. This was very different for OpenLearn, which was all about the OU and much more effective. I think a similar ‘MOOC platform trumps university brand’ battle may arise with MOOCs.
- They’re not reaching the desired audiences – there has been much made of the typical demographic of MOOCs being highly qualified, independent learners from a well off background. This has been rather embarrassing for the whole “democratise education” rhetoric, as it may actually increase inequality. It might have been supposed to be an initial effect – these are the types of people who are early adopters and it will the diffuse to other populations. We now have had long enough to see if this occurring. Maybe it is, but I haven’t seen any research to that effect.
- It may be a zero sum game – related to the previous point, on their initial presentation a MOOC may get high numbers of enrolments but this then usually decreases for subsequent ones. Many learners take multiple MOOCs. So once you’ve got the hardcore MOOCers, and those with a particular interest in that subject, not many new learners are there to be found. The MOOC business model will rely on large numbers across multiple presentations.
I’m not predicting MOOCs will disappear. I think what the above indicates is that MOOCs will need to be targeted to meet very specific aims and audiences. Whether this more finessed approach is viable with the external, commercially driven enterprises who rely on a continual intake of new courses and learners remains to be seen. As with OER, which is somewhat ahead of MOOCs in terms of maturity, they will need to adapt to meet the goals of the sector, and reflect on those initial claims. I would argue that anyone developing MOOCs now looks at these 5 factors (at least) and ensures that they have answers for them. Sorry MOOC companies, I think the honeymoon is over.