Now that we’ve had a few years of investment in MOOCs we can reflect on what this period tells us. I’m not talking about the value of MOOCs themselves, their pedagogy, or technology, but rather what this unprecedented amount of investment from universities and venture capitalists reveals. Rather unsurprisingly, people are now questioning the sustainability of this investment, and whether, you know, it was worth it. So here are my lessons from the MOOC investment bubble for anyone wanting to recreate it for any new venture.
- There is money around – MOOCs came just after the economic crisis, and yet when it was required, huge investments in actual cash, people, technology and support were found for MOOCs.
- Don’t go cheap – they won’t respect you. Rather than demonstrating how cheaply you can get away with doing something, it seems the scale of ambition and investment in MOOCs was what appealed to university presidents.
- Don’t underestimate fear as a factor – although it was couched in social good, student recruitment, innovating pedagogy, etc I would suggest that the single biggest motivating factor for investing in MOOCs was fear – fear of being left behind, fear of looking old fashioned, fear that the hyped revolution may actually happen.
- Big rhetoric wins – allied with the fear factor was a strong rhetoric around democratising education, disruption (yawn), and revolution. This won out over research, or nuanced accounts.
- Technology inspires awe – I think many senior people in universities were rather like eager puppies when the sexy technology boys came calling. Some of the contracts signed with these companies for handing over content, rights and labour would never have been agreed without this general sense that the ‘future has come knocking’
That’s, erm, quite a cynical list isn’t it? I still maintain that MOOCs are interesting, but we should have explored them more on our own terms before joining in the gold rush. I hope there is some sober reflection now on the investment that has gone into them.