Massive open online courses, MOOCs, were hailed as the disruptive innovation that was going to level the playing field in higher education just two years ago when The New York Times declared 2012 "The Year of the MOOC."
MOOCs are free online, not-for-credit classes taught by top professors and available to students around the globe. One of the first MOOCs taught by a professor at Stanford who was an early adopter had around 160,000 students register for class. The problem is that the class completion rate was dismal - just 10 percent.
The Atlantic recently looked at the current state of MOOCs. While education professionals feared the new classes would take the place of traditional classrooms, they have become their own education genre:
It's worth noting that these companies do, in fact, present themselves as the future of American education. In the lobby of edX's headquarters in Kendall Square, near MIT, there are plasma TV screens that repeatedly flash words like "cutting-edge" and "tomorrow" alongside the edX logo. And at the HarvardX office, the overall atmosphere is very much that of a tech start-up: open floorplan; huge iMac screens at every workstation; employees sitting on exercise balls; ideas written in multicolored marker all over the erasable walls. These firms are cutting-edge, and they know it.
They've also come along at a time when brick-and-mortar colleges are facing a number of serious challenges. The admissions process has become increasingly competitive; growth in administrative budgets has outpaced raises for faculty; more and more tenure-track lines have been replaced by low-paid adjuncts; and tuition has continually skyrocketed. MOOCs, many seem to fear, will contribute to this trend, ensuring the ultimate obsolescence of the professor.
On The Daily Circuit, we look at how MOOCs have evolved and what they mean for the future of higher education.