Back in January, The Research Bunker Blog featured a post that talked about the emerging trend of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Half a year has passed since then and there have been a number of noteworthy developments on the MOOC front.

Earlier this week, it was reported that San Jose State University has suspended a MOOC initiative due to abnormally low pass rates in some courses. In one example, a remedial math course that normally has an 80 percent pass rate in the live, face-to-face course had just a 29 percent pass rate for the MOOC version that was being administered as part of a partnership with Udacity. The pass rates were especially low for the non-San Jose State students who had access to the course. The findings of various studies on expected pass rates of online versus traditional course delivery pass rates has been mixed, with some finding a generally lower pass rate for online classes, the variance in the case of San Jose State’s MOOCs was considered dramatic and alarming enough that the school felt the need to re-evaluate the program and regroup.

What is a MOOC?


MOOCs suffered another high-profile setback this past winter when a MOOC course offered by Georgia Tech and Coursera was canceled after one week due to technical problems. Especially embarrassing for the parties involved was the fact that it was a course about online learning called “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application.” According to reports, there were issues on multiple fronts for this class of 40,000 enrolled students including glitches in the Learning Management System, communication and collaboration issues and even crashing a Google server.

Some see these types of problems as the inevitable growing pains associated with implementing a new technology-based learning model. Others see it as proof that MOOCs are an over-hyped fad. Either way, there appears to be a re-evaluation of MOOCs and calls to proceed with more restraint by a number of institutions and opinion leaders within higher education.

Despite the setbacks, it is much too early to write MOOCs off as a failure at this point. Experimentation with the format continues and reached a new milestone in May when it was announced that Georgia Tech was partnering with Udacity to offer a MOOC-delivered master’s degree program in computer science. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this initiative is the fact that the degree will cost less than $7,000, significantly less than a traditional master’s degree from Georgia Tech or just about anywhere else.

The future of MOOCs is anyone’s guess, but as we pointed out back in January, continuing consumer pressure to make education more affordable combined with the ever-increasing demand for more accessibility would seem to make MOOCs or whatever they evolve into almost inevitable on some level. And, as long as mainstream, established institutions such as San Jose State and Georgia Tech continue to experiment with the model and stick with it through the rough patches, there will be a measure of credibility associated with MOOCs that makes them impossible to ignore.