25 Years of EdTech – 2012: MOOCs

(we used David Kernohan’s image a lot back in the day and this is Michael Branson Smith’s animated version)

[Continuing the 25 Years of Ed Tech series]

Inevitably, in this series 2012 had to be allocated to MOOCs, when it was so breathlessly anointed “The Year of the MOOC“. In many ways the MOOC phenomenon can be viewed as the combination of several preceding technologies: some of the open approach of OER, the application of video, the experimentation of connectivism, and the revolutionary hype of web 2.0. Clay Shirky mistakenly proclaimed that MOOCs were the internet happening to education. If he’d been paying attention, he would have seen that this had been happening for some time. Rather, MOOCs were Silicon Valley happening to education. Once Stanford Professor Sebastian Thrun’s course had attracted over 100,000 learners and almost as many headlines, the venture capitalist investment flooded in.

Much has been written about MOOCs, more than I can do justice to here. They are a case study still in the making. The raised profile of open education and online learning caused by MOOCs may be beneficial in the long run, but the MOOC hype (only ten global providers of higher education by 2022?) may be equally detrimental. The edtech field needs to learn how to balance these developments. Millions of learners accessing high-quality material online is a positive, but the rush by colleges and universities to enter into prohibitive contracts, outsource expertise, and undermine their own staff has long-term consequences as well.

With MOOC companies still trying to find business models, the hype of revolutionising higher ed has often become something more muted such as “we do nice corporate training“. And it is still an industry that relies on higher education, so the alliance between the two needs to be mutually beneficial, less it go down the antagonistic model of academic publishing. Grizzled old educational technologists such as myself who hold memories of their hand coded HTML websites dear might bemoan the Year Zero mentality of MOOC entrants (“we’ve invented online learning, say thank you!”), it is also the case that when it works well, universities have gained a lot of experience in developing online courses and dealing with the needs of online learners, which had stalled in many places.

And I’ll forever be grateful to MOOCs for the sheer number of blog posts they generated.

PS – if you want a SPOILER for the remaining years, I was asked to turn this series into a 20 Years of Ed Tech article for Educause Review (who are celebrating their 20th anniversary).

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