Overhyping MOOCs

Education media is abuzz with news about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). The Chronicle of Higher Education has repeatedly touted the supposed benefits of MOOCs in successive stories for several years now, as have other education and technology publications online.  The mainstream television and radio media have now picked up on Coursera’s rapid expansion.

Rarely do any of these media outlets examine the content of MOOCs critically. Instead, they routinely present any criticism of MOOC courses as resulting from professorial conservatism or technological ignorance.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has just published an article based on their survey of 103 professors who actually teach MOOCs. The online survey asked 184 MOOC professors (103 responded) a series of questions about their courses and instructional methods.

The most stunning finding of the survey was that 72 percent of MOOC professors believed that the students who passed their courses did not deserved credit at their own colleges and universities.


Unsurprisingly, the Chronicle of Higher Education buries this key finding toward the end of the article. “As far as awarding formal credit is concerned, most professors do not think their MOOCs are ready for prime time. Asked if students who succeed in their MOOCs deserve to get course credit from their home institutions, 72 percent said no.” Considering that the survey only questioned active MOOC professors who are proponents of online courses, this is a telling sign of the serious limitations of MOOCs within American university education.

The survey also shows that “the average pass rate was 7.5 percent”—a miserable completion rate that would not be acceptable on any college or university campus. The Chronicle of Higher Education places this statistic in a section on “Cutting College Costs,” implying that MOOCs have a potential to significantly reduce tuition costs and transform the United States higher-education system.


Another intriguing result from the survey was that “Professors who responded to The Chronicle survey reported a variety of motivations for diving into MOOCs. The most frequently cited reason was altruism—a desire to increase access to higher education worldwide.”

The global aspirations of many of the MOOC professors clash with the U.S. media’s presentation of the supposed benefits of MOOCs for American undergraduate students. The majority of MOOC courses offer practical (and basic) education in science, mathematics, and engineering, which may be more useful to individuals around the world who are living in areas that lack fully developed higher-education systems.

I would argue that the Chronicle of Higher Education and other educational media are overhyping the potential of MOOCs and greatly exaggerating their relevance for American undergraduate students.

See the full story at the Chronicle of Higher Education online.

This entry was posted in Digital Humanities, Education Policy, Globalization, Humanities Education, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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