It’s interesting to observe how MOOCs evolves. Stephen Downes sees them at a turning point where initial hype is waning. This is natural for any new(ish) development that stands to pass the test of time. The two possible outcomes are either a decline into obsolescence, or the consolidation into a solid part of the establishment (society, education system, professional development method, employability, university marketing).
Stephen provides an overview of the current state and a vision for the future of MOOCs. He also tries to alleviate fears that have come up. My perception of the points he raises differs quite a bit from his views. Firstly, I would not call MOOCs democratised just because participants form a community in (cMOOCs) or aside (xMOOCs) of the core activities. This is a feature not specific to MOOCs and happens in f2f courses too, quite naturally, – but because it’s not directly under the eyes of the lecturer, it is not perceived as component of the course, even though it may contribute a large amount to the student experience. In fact, most (especially xMOOCs) are quite undemocratic when it comes to influencing the content, syllabus, design or activities.
With respect to the high drop-out/non-completion rate of MOOCs, I concur with my colleagues Marco Kalz and Marcus Specht, who see the learning design as key. They distinguish cMOOCs and xMOOCs as being designed primarily with student-student interaction or student-content interaction in mind, but go on further by pointing out that these are extrem opposites and that there are MOOCs with in-between learning designs that also allow for runtime changes due to student feedback. These ‘shades of grey’, again, are signs of the evolution of the MOOC concept.
I diverge quite strongly from Stephen’s optimistic visions of the future. His remark: “While at the moment they are strongly associated with an individual university, over time … they will forge their own identity, separating themselves from their university origin.” I have my doubts even with respect to the persistence of a MOOC-formed community, but I can certainly not see this happen in business terms, unless all MOOC teachers follow the career path of Sebastian Thrun and create their own spin off company (but check out his change of course). MOOCs from a HEI perspective are driven almost solely by marketing and profiling motives, which by their very nature demand the “ownership” and branding of things. We already see double branding happen in the hosting providers like Coursera. And, as was to be expected, rankings such as the European Scoreboard highlight the emergence of a competitive environment. The most we can hope for in this situation is limited collaboration, mutual acceptance, and perhaps credit transfer, but even this is still very far off.
Equally, I find the following futuristic statement both idealistic and worrying: “(student) activities leave digital traces, and future employers will not look so much at credentials as they will depend on intelligent software which harvests these traces and constructs a digital profile of prospective employees.” Firstly, this is extremely optimistic in a distributed information environment that assumes the self-organisation of connectivist networks in an unrestricted toolset. Similar flaws and controversies exist in the attempted use of citation indexes as a basis for serious assessment of a researcher’s inventiveness, productivity or impact – although this is comparatively simple, based on a single indicator. Secondly, even if search tools would exist that harvest distributed internet traces and make them visible and attributable to a single person, sythesis software that assesses personal competences from this track record is far beyond our imagination and would raise even more worrying concerns than the NSA scandal on the news right now!