MOOCs: Evolution and Revolution

MOOCs: Evolution and Revolution

Kenneth Ronkowitz, Lynnette Condro Ronkowitz
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch011
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This chapter introduces the evolution of the MOOC, using narratives that are documented by research generated from the educational community. It concentrates on the history and progression of distance learning and its movement toward online education. The authors' perspectives focus on their own anecdotal evolution, from traditional classroom teaching, infusing distance and online learning, to designing and teaching in a MOOC setting. In examining whether the MOOC is more of an evolution or a revolution in learning, they explore questions that have emerged about MOOCs including what distinguishes this model from other online offerings, characteristics of learners who succeed in this environment, and debates regarding best practices. Critical reaction and responses by proponents of this learning format are presented and acknowledged. The research, perspectives and debates clearly impact what the future of the MOOC appears to offer. This continues the discussion within the book section ‘RIA and education practice of MOOCs,' aligning to the discussion on the topic of ‘educational training design.'
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In the evolution of online learning, the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is an asteroid that has hit the world of education. The dust has yet to settle but as in all debates, the MOOC is being embraced and feared in very much the same way that technology enhanced and threatened various roles in corporations, small businesses and schools.

The MOOC is both part of the evolution of online learning as well as a revolution potentially threatening to disrupt the existing educational models for access to learning as well as the ways in which to validate that learning for advancement. While they offer opportunities for higher education, they also threaten the tuition, credit and degree programs that have been at the center of universities for centuries.

Education is certainly in the forefront of discussions around the world. At the 22-25 January, 2014 World Economic Conference (WEF), education was part of several Open Forum Panel discussions (WEF, 2014). This invitation-only annual meeting held by the WEF in the eastern Alps region of Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, focuses on global concerns. In the video streams of Open Forum Davos 2014, there was a panel called ‘Higher Education-Investment or Waste?’ (WEF) moderated by David Callaway, Editor-in-Chief of USA Today (USA TODAY). One panel participant was Zach Sims (WEF, 2014), who was introduced as a 23-year-old entrepreneur who dropped out of Columbia University in the City of New York to be the CEO and co-founder of a company called Codecademy (WEF, 2014). This company offers online courses for people who want or need to learn computer coding for their career ( The panel questioned whether traditional higher education is worth the cost and debated the alternatives. Sims (2014) argued that “the universities are facing competition from the free market from companies like ours [Codecademy and Coursera] and they [the universities] will become better and will provide alternatives to people” (WEF, 2014). The panel was optimistic that change would come to higher education, both in cost and structure; the entire panel agreed that tertiary education in some new form will remain pertinent in the global market. After a period for audience questions and participation, the majority of the audience, during an informal poll, voted that MOOCs are a revolution (WEF, 2014).

Most technological change involves massive disruption whereas economic ‘bubbles’, like the trillion-dollar student loan bubble in the U.S., tend to burst, not slowly deflate. Initially, the disruption of the MOOC may have appeared to be a rapid revolution just a few years ago, but it seems more likely to become a gradual evolution over the course of the next decade.

The year 2012 had been designated as the “Year of the MOOC” by The New York Times and much of the popular media. The following year was then sarcastically dubbed the “Year of the MOOC Hype” (Kelly, 2014). With that behind us, we are in a period that will determine the true value and place for MOOCs. This evolutionary stage in the development of online learning may have a greater revolutionary impact on the way it changes how we educate and validate learning inside and outside educational institutions. What are the new rules that will accompany these possible new models in education? Public universities and for-profit institutions have been offering fully online degree programs for several decades. If one of the goals of some organizations offering MOOCs is to provide degrees either through partnerships with established universities or by the universities themselves, then MOOCs are another way of continuing that work. However, if the MOOC becomes an actual ‘alternative’ to the courses, degree programs and the traditional university itself, then we have a revolution.

This chapter discusses some big questions in understanding the role of the MOOC. The comparison of traditional learning with MOOCs will answer many questions about what they are and identify the characteristics that distinguish MOOCs from what until now has been considered typical online learning. At the same time, it will raise more questions about the structure of current education and the progressive nature of the MOOC.

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