The Rise and Fall of MOOCs
In 2012, MOOCs emerged as promising new educational tools. Many proclaimed they would not only educate underserved populations, but also significantly impact unemployment rates around the world. Major universities began producing course videos, and the benefits were even discussed at a TED Talk that year. The New York Times declared 2012 “The Year of the MOOC."
But the hype was a little premature. By 2013, research into MOOCs revealed that only half of people who registered for MOOCs even viewed a single lecture, and an average of 4 percent of enrollees completed a course.
A lack of motivation wasn’t the only revelation; research into MOOCs showed that the intended target audience — people in developing nations — wasn’t using the system. Studies revealed that approximately 80 percent of MOOC users already have an advanced degree. Many students who benefit from MOOCs already have considerable access to education.
In Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the vast majority of students engaging in online courses came from the wealthiest 6 percent of the population. What’s wrong with this opportunity going only to the wealthy? It reinforces the existing educational patterns and the disparity that MOOCs were created to help eliminate.
So where exactly do current MOOC systems fall short? Here are four main problems:
1. Residents in developing nations don’t have access: While MOOCs are free and “available" to all, they still require access to computers with fast Internet connections, which poorer residents of developing nations generally don’t have. Ezekiel Emanuel, author of a 2013 MOOC article in Nature, explained it best when he said, “MOOCs seem to be reinforcing the advantages of the ‘haves’ rather than educating the ‘have nots.’"
2. They don’t foster regular study habits: The more education people have, the more developed study habits and patterns become. But in this self-paced learning environment, the lack of regimen seems to contribute to the low completion rate for courses. As a result, people with robust education backgrounds who have the drive to self-educate are the only ones taking advantage of these programs.
3. They lack interactive learning: When people get together to learn, they should “replace passivity with interactivity." MOOCs boast the convenience of pre-recorded videos available anytime online, but this style of instruction lacks the benefits teachers provide through encouraging the exchange of ideas, answering questions, and providing feedback or follow-up on work. A simple grade is the only success metric a student has after completing a course.
4. They don’t offer supplemental resources for education: Education is valuable, but it can only carry an individual so far. Students also need networking opportunities, internships, and mentorships to successfully transition into the working world, which these online-only programs don’t offer.
Despite their flaws, there’s still hope for MOOCs. But to succeed in educating people around the world and meeting their specific needs, they must evolve.