Why the MOOCopalypse is Unlikely

March 20, 2013 at 1:45 am 15 comments

The article from The Chronicle referenced below helped convince me that the MOOCopalypse is unlikely to happen. The MOOCopalypse is the closing of most of American universities (“over half” said one of our campus leaders recently) because of MOOCs. The Chronicle piece is about the professors currently offering MOOCs, and the survey (at left) is only with MOOC providers.

The first and greatest challenge to the MOOCopalypse is economic.  It’s a huge cost to produce MOOCs — not just on the professors making the MOOCs, but on all their colleagues who have to cover the teaching and service that the MOOC-makers aren’t providing.  For what benefit?  Most of the MOOC professors talk about the huge impact, about a “one to two to three magnitudes” greater impact.  Not clear to me how universities can take that to the bank.  Unlike fame from a great result or influential paper, MOOC fame doesn’t obviously lead to greater funding opportunities.

There is currently no revenue from MOOCs.  It is not reducing the number of students who need to be taught, nor the amount of service needed to run the place.  It may be reducing the amount of research (and research funding) that the MOOC providers may have provided.  MOOC professors who see that MOOCs may reduce the costs to students are consequently predicting fewer tuition dollars flowing into their institutions.  Literally, I do not see that the benefits of MOOCs outweigh their costs.

In all, the extra work took a toll. Most respondents said teaching a MOOC distracted them from their normal on-campus duties.

“I had almost no time for anything else,” said Geoffrey Hinton, a professor of computer science at the University of Toronto.

“My graduate students suffered as a consequence,” he continued. “It’s equivalent to volunteering to supply a textbook for free and to provide one chapter of camera-ready copy every week without fail.”

via The Professors Behind the MOOC Hype – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The second reason why the MOOCopalypse is unlikely is because those predicting the closing of community colleges and state universities do not understand the ecology of these institutions and how they are woven into the fabric of their communities.

  • This year, I chair the computing and information system technologies (CIST) advisory board of local Chattahoochee Technical College.  Most of the advisory board draws on local industry, the people who hire CTC’s graduates.  They have a say in what gets taught, by describing what they need.  How do you replicate that interchange with MOOCs?
  • I have had the opportunity to visit several institutions in the University System of Georgia through “Georgia Computes!”  At Albany State University, they teach the standard computing courses, but the languages and tools they use are drawn from ones that the local industry needs.  At Columbus State University, they teach content that local Fort Benning needs for the military personnel and employees.  Courses are set up to meet the logistical needs of the military at Fort Benning.  Why would the MOOC provider-professors at Stanford, MIT, Harvard, or Toronto want to meet any of those needs?

My third reason why I believe the MOOCopalypse is unlikely is based on a prediction about the technology. I do not believe that MOOCs are going to dramatically increase their completion rates (even with degree options and accreditation schemes like Accredible.com) ,and I do not believe that MOOCs will be successful in teaching the majority of students.  Funders of higher education (e.g., parents and legislators) and consumers of higher education products (e.g., employers) are not going accept the closing of state universities in favor of an option that fewer students graduate from and that produces weaker graduates.  We are already hearing the pushback against the plans to move community college courses into MOOCs in The ChronicleI can believe that some universities may close, but I cannot believe that we as a nation would willingly embrace the closing of a not-great but underfunded educational system for a markedly worse one.

I’m reminded of the A Nation at Risk report and the claim “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”  That report was about primary and secondary school education.  The MOOCopalypse would be an act of war on higher education.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

True success of ‘robotics revolution’ hinges on training and education ICER 2013 Conference Call for Papers released

15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pedro  |  March 20, 2013 at 2:47 am

    Reblogged this on From experience to meaning… and commented:
    Will the half of universities in the US close because of the MOOC’s? Unlikely or not?

  • 2. alanone1  |  March 20, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Hi Mark

    I don’t think any of these reasons will stand up, regardless of whether they are good reasons or not.

    We could think of many even better reasons from the standpoint of ca 1945 as to why the US education system would not be allowed to deteriorate, or that readers will not allow bookstores to be done in by electronic media of all kinds, including TV and Amazon and eBooks.

    And so forth.

    Convenience and status (and a few other human universals) — even if with lower quality — have almost always trumped previous forms. Much of offering high school education universally has been done at the expense of expanding K-6 into the high school years and pushing what high schoolers used to learn into college.

    And now the same thing is happening to the college years. Since grad school is not generally a wide spectrum educational experience, what used to be covered in college is now not being covered.

    This deterioration completely dominates whether MOOCs are going to be a big deal or not.

    As Neil Postman said in “Amusing Ourselves To Death” he didn’t worry nearly as much about censorship as he did about whether there would soon be too few readers for censorship to be even an issue.

    I.e. don’t worry about MOOCs, instead worry about thresholds and quality



  • 3. alanone1  |  March 20, 2013 at 10:01 am

    P.S. I just remembered a trip that Nicholas Negroponte and I took visiting the East Coast publishing houses (and the NYTimes) in the late 70s (or very early 80s) explaining to them what was going to happen to all phases of publishing — showing them the collision of publishing, entertainment and computing (the famous “Ballentine Ale” picture), etc.

    Similarly Bob Stein and I tried to explain this to Encyclopedia Brittanica (anybody remember them?) around 1982.

    None of them could remotely see any of this, and some of their reasons were even connected with various “qualities of experience”, etc.



  • 4. alanone1  |  March 20, 2013 at 10:10 am

    P.P.S. The “Nation At Risk Report” exhibited three very interesting issues/points.

    1. Great words that needed to be heeded in the beginning (they also inserted my favorite Jefferson quote about “The ultimate repository of the society …” etc.

    2. A very weak survey of what needed to be done, and how to go about doing it. This quite missed what was actually needed in pretty much all areas. (This criticism is rarely brought up when this report is used rhetorically.)

    3. Close to zero response by the US Congress and citizenry. One of the correct ways to interpret this response is that the US by in large is not at all interested in anything resembling real education, and finds it both scary and elitist in the extreme.

    The US wants money, and if the way to get it is partly jobs, then also jobs. If jobs need a certain certification then ways will be found to game the system to get that certification with a minimum amount of actual learning being done.



    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  March 20, 2013 at 10:20 am

      That last sentence (“If jobs need a certain certification then ways will be found to game the system to get that certification with a minimum amount of actual learning being done”) is probably the most depressing, because everything I’ve learned about economics suggests that you’re right.

      Of my three arguments why the MOOCopalypse is unlikely, only the last one is about quality of experience, i.e., that people won’t actually learn, and we’ll have fewer graduates. The other two are economic. The first is that the costs are going to outweigh the benefits. For rich schools like Stanford and Harvard, the costs can be borne for a long time before being noticed. The second is that state universities and community colleges play roles in the local economies that massive on-line open courses can’t play.

      The first is like publishing, and I think we’re still seeing that one play out. For example, as more people rely on “free” news sources, there is less real reporting going on (see research study that just came out this week). Will there eventually be a pushback where people will pay for real journalism? Or will The Economist just keep getting more expensive?

      The second is why there are still some small, independent bookstores — because they play a role in their local Main Street and local communities. I think that the state universities and community colleges play a more functional role, and are thus, unlikely to disappear. But we’ll see — I have no crystal ball, just my best guess.


      • 6. alanone1  |  March 20, 2013 at 10:39 am

        Hi Mark

        There is a lot of evidence that many university graduates have learned very little and could not be characterized as having gained an education (and perhaps not even sufficient vocational skills). I think it is below threshold already, and this means that MOOCs — even if they are worse — are not the main problem.

        I don’t think the costs are that huge now, and will be even less over time. As you know so well, writing a book is more work than preparing a MOOC. The big question is what kind of costs are associated with the kinds of grading and feedback that will be found acceptable?

        MOOCs are a good fit to what online universities — which are fast outstripping conventional schools in supplying routes for certification — are already offering.

        And I don’t think the question is about “disappear?” but about “changed for the worse in all but name?” — most pernicious processes keep labels and forms and change content into irrelevance — this is what we have to worry about.



  • […] not going to change quickly.  People are investing in MOOCs and other open learning resources.  While I do not believe that the MOOCopalypse will happen, people who do believe in it are making investments based on that belief.  The MOOC-believers […]

  • 8. Danny King  |  March 21, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Thanks for mentioning Accredible!

    I love the phrase ‘MOOCopalypse’ and I personally hope it won’t occur. I’m a CS graduate and I’m also a passionate MOOC user/student. I think my enthusiasm and excitement for MOOCs doesn’t stem from how they could disrupt university education, but more from how they could totally reform lifelong learning. I study a lot of MOOCs, but I don’t see them as an alternative to my undergraduate degree – I see them as a way to continue that learning and to keep applying the skills I gained whilst at university. If I hadn’t been through university, I’d find MOOCs much less valuable. I see it as a terrible shame that so many people graduate and then largely stop their learning at that point. University taught me how to learn and many students only finally grasp this towards the end of their studies. I can now keep applying these learning skills for free in a highly structured course-like environment and through the highest quality material I have ever been exposed to in a dizzying array of subjects. MOOCs have made it much easier to /continue/ learning. I see that as truly wonderful.

    Accreditation and credibility of the learning remains a big problem though, and that’s why I’m throwing myself into reimagining the idea of certificates/diplomas to make sense in this new learning environment. It’s wonderful that people can continue learning for learning’s sake, but the next step is to be able to use that learning to enhance your career opportunities for those that want it. Hopefully that’s where I can help!

  • […] It nice to see someone with a background in management making this argument, that the costs of MOOCs may be greater than the benefits. […]

  • […] States, and how those responsibilities might be shared across online and face-to-face education.  A more reasonable response than the MOOCopalypse. […]

  • […] MS degree starting.  The faculty did vote on the proposal. I argued against it (based mostly on learning and diversity arguments), but lost (which led to my long winter […]

  • 12. MOOC roundup | Gas station without pumps  |  July 28, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    […] MS degree starting.  The faculty did vote on the proposal. I argued against it (based mostly on learning and diversity arguments), but lost (which led to my long winter post). Faculty in the College of […]

  • […] I know faculty at both KSU and SPSU.  My PhD student, Briana Morrison, is faculty at SPSU.  No one that I spoke to had any idea this was happening.  These aren’t small schools.  SPSU is one of the few universities in Georgia with a publicly-funded engineering program.  KSU+SPSU is considerably larger than Georgia Tech.  Is this part of the consolidation of higher education foretold by the MOOCopalyptic visions? […]

  • 14. mgozaydin  |  November 27, 2013 at 5:58 am

    Old ( I say old to make a distinction ) online has been here for 21 years by 1,300 colleges and for profits with degrees too. They are expensive $ 1,500-2,000 per course .

    Now 7 million ( 2011 figure by Babson College Annual Report )
    students taking at least one online course .
    That is 7 / 18 = 39 % of the whole HE in the USA.
    That means already HE is being replaced by even bad onlines .

    Now there are good onlines
    By Elite reputable universities ,
    now free later when they provide degrees a small fee.

    First people must know that ( yes ) cost of developing an online course is too high more than $ 1 million . ( MIT claims they charge $ 250,000 development per course )
    Pay back of any investment around 5 years . Imagine elite universities one online course reaches to 1,000,000 students in 5 years ( that is 200,000 per year or 100,000 per semester ) then the cost per person is only $ 1 .( That is globally )

    That is the key. Only elite universities can attract millions globally .

    Beauty of online is volüme of Access. Never design an online for 500 or so students .

    New online must be provided by consortiunm like edx, MIT, Harvard, Cornell, Caltech, Stanford, Georgetown, Wellesley etc . A must is NON PROFIT . These schools can do lots of new research too how to make online more efficient and lower cost . Adaptive learning . And they would not charge more than $ 10-50 per course to make Money too . Sure DEGREE IS A MUST .

    When edx starts providing degrees I predict that
    in 10 years slowly
    1.- All colleges will be closed one by one
    2.- 2 million teachers and administrators in these schools will be jobless.
    Therefore some measures must be taken . Very very important .

    1.- All people of the World can get low cost high quality education
    $ 10-50 per course with MITx, Harvardx, Stanford x degrees
    2.- Students happy, parents happy, DOE happyy
    3.- Federal wins No loans any more
    4.- States happy no subsidy anymore
    5.- Money will flow to USA from global students
    6.- Joblessness is getting low
    7.- GNP is increasing

    But sure there will be lots of objections from colleges and teachers.
    We will see WHO will win .
    I would like to know your comments

  • […] we succeeded in preventing the MOOCopalypse, despite the claims that “Computer Science MOOCS march forward!”  Since the MOOC […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9,045 other followers


Recent Posts

Blog Stats

  • 2,025,279 hits
March 2013

CS Teaching Tips

%d bloggers like this: