MOOC Hype Cycle - Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I talk about how MOOCs have experienced a somewhat circular evolution. It feels like the goal of MOOCs is no longer “more Massive, more Open”, but instead to provide a more targeted, personalized learning experience. While pure MOOCs will continue to exist, many MOOC providers are now offering programs that have more specific value propositions and cater to smaller audiences. In doing so, MOOCs are “circling back” to being online courses again, but benefiting from the lessons learned along the ride.
At this point in time, that evolution is fracturing into a few different MOOC descendants, and it’s becoming more clear what those will look like. Here is where I see the landscape at this point:

  1. Credit Bearing Online courses – Less than 3 years ago, the debate was still around whether universities could and would offer university credit for MOOCs. In retrospect, the malleability of the MOOC term and the fact that a market will create supply where it finds demand should have rendered this debate moot. Today, ASU, Georgia Tech and others offer college credit for their MOOC-style courses.
  2. Assessment Courses – (Shameless plug ahead). In my opinion, we’ve worked with St. George’s University to build one of the most successful assessment programs available. We’ve built a 4-week assessment course on Open EdX that more accurately predicts student performance in medical school than do the students’ previous grades or MCAT® scores. Predicting student performance allows a university to support at-risk students and challenge advanced students, increasing overall outcomes and retention.
  3. Corporate & Professional Education – Approximately 25 million people will be required to earn Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit this year, generating over $2.5 Billion in revenue (http://www.policymed.com/2015/07/accme-annual-report-data-2014.html). Schools like Stanford are using MOOC technology to offer on-demand CME courses.
  4. Revenue-Generating Courses – Granted, this one is a broad category. But the first and still most popular method of generating revenue is the verified certificate approach. MOOC providers have adopted the freemium model where auditing the course is free, but having your education verified and validated costs money.
  5. Marketing/Recruiting Courses – Offering a one-off course is a strategic way to introduce students to your programs. Wharton, for example, waives the application fee for students who excel in their MOOC courses. According to Wharton, “The revenue [Wharton gets] from lead generation through Coursera courses far exceed their revenue from the courses directly”.
  6. Micro-Degrees – Similar to Certificates, Micro-Degrees are essentially bundles of certificates that demonstrate a broader accumulation of knowledge around a topic. The value proposition for students is clearer, giving providers more flexibility with how they charge for these programs. Udacity offers a “get hired” guarantee. Coursera offers discounted bulk pricing.

What does this all means? It is interesting to me that most of the programs above pre-dated MOOCs. CME, Online Degrees, Corporate education are not new. The MOOC revolution simply improved the way we deliver them. It means in one sense that MOOCs have shrunk from their global ambitions back into the safety of the known. But progress is progress. Ponce De León, after all, allegedly set sail searching for the fountain of youth. It was an ambitious goal that instead led to the discovery of Florida. No one I know has been to Disney World and said “well shucks, this isn’t the fountain of youth.” I’m taking the analogy too far…
At a higher level, the reality of an impending change in the higher education landscape seems to be sinking in. There is an undercurrent of “adapt or die”, even as we don’t know exactly where that adaptation will lead. Hence the expansion and fracturing of these MOOC descendants. While MOOCs weren’t the revolution that displaced traditional college education, they have only accelerated the feeling that things they are a-changing.