Seriously? MOOCs again?

For those of you who reading this, please note that this is the topic of the week in my PhD course.

Is Sebastian Thrun on to something?

When thinking about the questions posed this week, I prefer to begin by talking about Udacity and Thrun’s aha moment.  I watched the news closely when Sebastian Thrun was quoted just over a year ago calling Udacity “a lousy product”.  There are two major elements of the Udacity shift that are very telling; (1) the learning outcomes are improved with coaches increasing completion rates from 10% to 60%, (2) They focus on project based learning and not video lectures.  There are two ways to participate, you can still access the courses for free, but for $150.00 per month you have access to a coach that will give you feedback on your assignments and review code that is written.

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Thrun has created an alternative path to education in a discipline (computer science) where the degree means less than the certifications and alternative credentials that demonstrate the ability to perform certain IT related tasks.

Why all the hype?

The MOOC Phenomenon began with the hypothesis of Connectivism as a learning theory for the digital age in 2005.  To test this theory, Siemens and Downes offered the first cMOOC or Connectivist MOOC called Connectivism and Connected Knowledge or CCK in 2008.  There is debate as to whether Connectivism is a learning theory of a pedagogical view, which is one reason that MOOCs have received attention from various scholars that have been involved in online education for some time. Fast forward to 2012 and the first xMOOC.  Why x?  See Rob Power’s post on this topic for more information, but suffice to say that it was too course like to be considered a MOOC by the creators of the MOOC.

In a recent Forbes article, Anant Argarwal mentions that edX is giving away their platform for free.  However, to join edX and offer MOOCs as an institution it costs an institution $750,000 and they have to agree to develop 4 MOOCs per year.  According to the report produced by Columbia Teacher’s College, the average MOOC costs approximately $250,000 to build.  So that means that an institution spends nearly Two Million dollars to offer 4 MOOCs on edX for free.  This begs the question, are we driving down the cost of an education or driving it up? 

There is an option of obtaining an honor certificate for free in most courses or an ID Verified certificate for around $90, which they refer to as a minimum contribution.  Will this equate to a return on investment for the universities who are involved? Is there another revenue option?  How is this spending sustainable?

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What does the future of MOOCs look like? 

I expect that we will continue to see MOOCs available and alternative models of MOOCs emerge. There will be more MOOCs created for K-12 educators as professional development opportunities and more universities will develop online programs and blended learning options that integrate MOOCs into instruction.  The MOOC will become a textbook replacement and a supplement to traditional education in both K-12 and higher ed.  Universities will offer credit for MOOCs and create pathways to tenure and promotion for faculty who develop and deliver them.


Deamicis, C. (2014, May 12). A Q&A with. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from

Kanani, R. (2014, June 21). EdX CEO Anant Agarwal On The Future Of Online Learning. Retrieved September 21, 2014, from

Hollands, F., Tirthali, D., (2014) MOOCs: Expectations and Reality Full Report, Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education Columbia University

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