The over-served

Yesterday I made the claim that "successful online education has yet to be invented". Considering the hype around massively open online courses, or MOOCs, I noted that "[t]echniques and content to engage both wider audiences and niche groups are just now being tried."

Writing last month for pandodaily, Jason Stoffer offered a similar view of MOOCs. His title ("We've seen this movie before and it didn't have a happy ending") is a bit more critical than the post itself, in which Stoffer suggests three ways that MOOCs could go mainstream:

  • "Flipping the classroom", by using MOOC content to replace lectures while emphasizing "experiential and team-based work in class"
  • Finding ways to "replicate the campus environment", supporting both in-person meetings and online collaboration
  • Teaching skills that employers value, particularly "soft skills" like working in teams and business communications

Stoffer, who works at Maveron, a venture-capital firm, concludes:

Today’s MOOCs are at the beginning of a long and exciting journey to change education but one that will need to involve better online courses, more blended learning and destroying the “not invented here” complex that prevents professors and universities from using best of breed content created elsewhere.

While I agreed with most of Stoffer's arguments, I found some wiggle room in his claim that the low completion rates for most MOOCs show that they are effective only for a narrow use case (in Stoffer's view, highly motivated students). It could also be the case that the courses over-serve their audience, offering too much content, in part because that's how survey courses have been created in the past.

A conversation around this point developed in the comments that followed Stoffer's post. One reader added, "It isn't the case that MOOCs completion rates are low because people aren't motivated, it's because the target audience has different goals and don't need to care about completion certificates."

Markets that are over-served by prevailing products and services are also ones that can be disrupted. I still think it's early in the MOOC hype cycle, but there certainly is more than enough room to invest in new and different ways to provide online education.

A bit of disclosure: Maveron was co-founded by Dan Levitan, who was a sectionmate during my first year in business school. Neither Levitan nor Stoffer had any involvement in the creation of this post, which is based on otherwise publicly available information.


About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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