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The MOOC Pivot

MOOC illustration

When massive open online courses (MOOCs) first captured global attention in 2012, advocates imagined a disruptive transformation in postsecondary education. Video lectures from the world's best professors could be broadcast to the farthest reaches of the networked world, and students could demonstrate proficiency using innovative computer-graded assessments, even in places with limited access to traditional education.

But after promising a reordering of higher education, the field is instead coalescing around a different, much older business model: helping universities outsource their online master's degrees for professionals. Shedding light on the reasons for this shift, three patterns emerge from data on MOOCs provided by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology via the edX platform:

  1. The vast majority of MOOC learners never return after their first year;
  2. the growth in MOOC participation has been concentrated almost entirely in the world's most affluent countries;
  3. low completion rates—the bane of MOOCs—has not improved over six years.

From Science
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