Moving Into the Post-MOOC Era

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I sometimes wonder if we might have already entered the post-MOOC era. This is something other than the Gartner “trough of disillusionment,” although some of that is already evident. There is no question, I think, but that the MOOC has shaken up the higher education establishment to a degree for which there may be no precedent. But is the MOOC the whole story? What will its lasting mark be?

What leads me to ask this question are a number of indicators that seem to show that the MOOC is already evolving.  Perhaps it might be more accurate to say that the MOOC is being broken up into parts and each of the parts is spawning a new round of activity. Examples:

•    San Jose State University introduced the innovation idea of using MOOC materials (and not the MOOC themselves) as course content for a flipped classes, working with both edX and Udacity. But now we learn that the Udacity classes are on hold for a semester, and hear conflicting interpretations about what that means.
•    Stanford has talked about the idea of “distributed flip,” i.e., a group of flipped classrooms participating together in a MOOC. Stanford is also working on a MOOC variant: SPOC (small private online course).
•    Coursera is investigating the angle of courseware. A set of universities will be setting up something a bit akin a content fair, “creating or using and buying or selling course material from each other, with Coursera in the middle as a content broker, consultant and host,” as Ry Rivard put it in InsideHigherEd.
•    There seems to be keen interest in what might be called “MOOC platform services.”  edX will be offering the source code for its platform for free, and Blackboard recently announced that it will join Instructure in offering a MOOC platform, for use by schools to deliver MOOCs. Coursera’s work also hovers in this neighborhood.
•    The CIC is considering forming their own MOOC consortium.
•    And the MOOC is beginning to deliver credit.  Academic Partnerships has announced its MOOC2Degree program (MOOCs for which credit is available). Georgia Tech, working with Udacity, has announced its online master’s degree

No doubt there is lots more going on as well.

What seems to be happening here is that the MOOC is being divided into its constituent parts (e.g., platform, courseware, textbook) and each of these dimensions is gaining a life of its own. This seems to strongly suggest that the MOOC itself is not nearly the final story. In the end, the MOOC’s big contribution may be the substantial momentum it has imparted to online education and the innovations spawned by that momentum. Adding to this momentum are the current fiscal conditions and the threats of disintermediation. I’d suggest that a major outcome of this momentum is higher education’s being propelled into discussions about scale and student completion. This might well be the MOOC’s most significant contribution to the evolution of higher education.