Tuesday, December 4, 2018


So, MOOCs will not kill higher ed. Nope, we can leave that to Republicans and neo-liberal democrats (at least the great jewel in the crown, public higher ed). Remember when MOOCs were all the rage and we were being told constantly about how the end of standard education was imminent? Recall how some of us doubted that this would happen, at least for elite institutions (sure, garbage ed is always an attractive alternative for the unwashed). Remember when some said that we know that MOOCs will win the day when they become the standard at fancy schools where you need to pay 60k a year in tuition and another 40k to live? Well, that day won't come, and the prophets of the revolution are packing up their bags and disrupting something else.  Here is the epitaph in the Chronicle (thx to Bill Idsardi for sending the piece along):

In 2012, Sebastain Thrun, co-founder of Udacity, declared “In 50 years, there will be only 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education.” 
If this is to come true, it seems clear that Udacity isn’t going to be one of them, not just because they’re shedding employees, but because Udacity continues to “pivot” away from education and towards corporate training, helping companies “upscale their talent” in Thrun’s parlance.  
“MOOC” does not appear once in the news of the layoffs. The Udacity nanodegree job guarantee program is currently on hold, perhaps never to return.
So MOOCs aren’t going to kill higher education institutions. This disruption isn’t to be.

Bright shines toys are what make the hearts of administrators race with excitement. MOOCs were the magic something for nothing flavor of the month. There is a saying, "those things too good to be true, aren't." MOOCs weren't and now they aren't. On the way some made lots of money and others wasted  many other people's time. But, as of now, it seems the wicked witch is dead. Celebrate, and remember for the next time.


  1. Not sure that's a cause to celebrate. More and more companies are "pivoting" towards a strategy of in-house training because it creates vendor lock-in on the employee side --- go to Amazon, learn just the aspects of data science that you need to work on Alexa, and spend the rest of your working life there at a below market-value wage because you have no upward mobility and lack transferable skills. That requires a lot of digital and educational infrastructure, of course. So right now that's only an option for the big tech companies like Amazon and Google (who also have world-class researchers and educators). But Udacity seems to be positioning itself as the key for mid-tier companies to pursue the same strategy. Bad for workers, and bad for the already battered higher education ecosystem in the US.

  2. As the teacher of one of the few linguistics MOOCs, 'Miracles of Human Language' (at Coursera, with about 170,000 participants), let me add one note. I have never thought of MOOCs replacing classes, nor did Leiden University. We hoped to reach people around the world with a course on linguistics that would be accessible and broad. I think we succeeded. On the one hand I know of several people in different countries who decided to study linguistics after completing the course. Many people around the world have discovered just a little bit about linguistics. It is silly to think that such a thing can replace courses; but it is a much nicer way to self-study than (just) a book: not just because of the videos but because of the possibility to interact with other people interested in the topic.

    'Celebrate, and remember for the next time.'

  3. I do not want to suggest that MOOCs are worthless. I use them and like them. But that is NOT why they were generally celebrated. They were supposed to be university busters. They were going to tame the runaway costs of education. This is what has been put on the back burner (thankfully). And, yes, I think that the death of this idea is worth celebrating. The MOOCification of the university was aimed at places lower down the academic rung. Harvard and Yale were never going there. This was for the lower classes. I am rally glad this has died, and I am planning to celebrate loudly.

  4. I never believed in that idea. it seems completely absurd, although I am also quite sure we will see it being revived many times, every time there is some technological breakthrough. It would be too bad, however, to have this format die with the absurd use that some administrators wanted to make of it.

    To celebrate this particular day, here is a video of our MOOC; a 30 min interview two students had with Chomsky:

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