Stanford University Shows Its Disappointment with MOOCs

Mitchell Stevens, left, Candace Thille and John Mitchell, spoke about Online Education at the Faculty Senate.

Definitely, MOOCs have not fixed education and the promise of a big change has not been accomplished.

Back in 2012, Stanford University proclaimed the MOOC revolution and now in 2015 declares its disappointment.

Stanford’s professors and co-directors of the Lytics Lab John Mitchell, Candace Thile and Mitchell Stevens (in the picture) have shared what they learned on a revealing article on Inside of Higher Ed online magazine.

We summarized their main ideas:

  • Back in 2012, massive open online courses entered public consciousness accompanied by grand promises of revolution. MOOC mania brought lots of hype. By 2013 a new campus operation was created at Stanford to support online instruction. It helped our faculty produce 171 online offerings, including 51 free public MOOCs offered repeatedly, reaching nearly two million learners. 
  • MOOCs are not college courses. They are a new instructional genre — somewhere between a digital textbook and a successful college course. Although they can provide much richer learning experiences than a printed book alone, current MOOCs pale in any comparison with face-to-face instruction by a thoughtfully invested human instructor.
  • No education policy that has current MOOCs replacing quality classroom instruction should be taken seriously. That said, most MOOCs provide free or low-cost learning opportunities, so it makes good sense to view them as positive enhancements to the overall education ecosystem. 
  • MOOCs are no panacea for educational inequality. Ample research now makes clear that the preponderance of MOOC users worldwide are college-educated men in highly industrialized countries. Recorded video instruction based on classes at highly selective colleges cannot easily serve broader audiences of less prepared learners.
  • Simply transferring lectures online will not provide effective learning on a massive scale. MOOCs are not Socratic wonders. The learning process is much more complicated than merely sitting in front of a computer screen. Successful online resources have been developed and rigorously evaluated, but they require careful learning design and engineering to engage students in meaningful activity.
  • MOOCs have raised awareness about how online learning technology might be used to support the science of learning. Every keystroke people make when they interact with an online instructional offering leaves a data trace that can be gleaned to support learning research. 
  • What no technology can solve is a failing business model for U.S. higher education. MOOCs have not fixed higher education, but they are poignant reminders of the urgent problems of college cost and access.


Inside Higher Ed: What We’ve Learned From MOOCs