No traction yet? Give MOOCs time.
Shawn Wasserman posted on January 16, 2014 |

It seems to me, and to consulting firm Deloitte as well, that Massive Open Online Courses (“MOOCs”) are a bit like a flash bang. They make a lot of noise with a massive registration, but their extremely low completion rate amounts to a small impact. That said, if you collect enough powder from enough flash bangs, the results can be big. Perhaps in time MOOCs will also make the impact promised.

In their recent predictions, Deloitte makes a lot of claims about MOOCs in both the near and far future.

The Now

In the short term, Deloitte predicts a 100% increase in registration in 2014 compared to two years ago. Considering that these courses can see enrollment in the thousands, that is rather impressive.  However, the MOOC completion rates show that less than 7% of those that sign on for a MOOC will complete it.

Universities, on the other hand, work very differently than MOOCs and therefore have a much higher completion rate. For instance, if you fail a course in University you may not be able to proceed, hence only about 1 in 6 will fail. Failing a MOOCs, however, has little consequence. 

This isn’t due to MOOC’s having poor content.  On the contrary, 91% of students approved of courses from the University of London (despite only 4% of students completing it). Furthermore, an artificial intelligence course from Stanford saw 410 MOOC students getting better marks on the final than any campus student.

Some Companies are beginning to jump on the MOOC bandwagon to beef up their employee training. That doesn’t translate to their hiring practices, as most would refuse MOOCS as a replacement for a degree.

The Future

There are a number of trends that work in favour of MOOCS for the long term.

Perhaps the greatest determining factor to the growth of MOOCs is the growing cost of education. In fact, Forbes Magazine has noted that while the overall consumer price index has increased 115% since 1985, college education has risen almost 500%. As wages struggle to keep up, the debt load increased from about $360 billion dollars in 2005 to almost a $1 trillion in 2013. Furthermore, the wages graduates should expect to earn from their degrees has been on a steady decline over the past decade.


Tuition relative to 1983 to 2013 by percentage. College Board, Annual Survey of Colleges, 2013.

This, in my opinion, constitutes a bubble ready to burst. In a time when it was the norm to tell your kids to go to school and get a job, perhaps a trade or online education will be a bigger bang for your buck in the future? This will produce a niche market ripe for the taking for the MOOC community. However, those looking for credentials, like many engineers, may not have this luxury.


Total Student Dabt Loan. The New York Fed, 2012.
MOOCs should also keep an eye out for the skills shortage produced by growing technology. It takes time for Universities to produce a new course, and once all the red tape is passed, the course material is already out of date in some technical sectors. This constitutes a skill gap which is only exacerbated by unemployment and the falling skills of the older generations.

Conversely, MOOCs can keep up with the pace of changing technologies. Once a new programming language starts to become the norm, the MOOC has already been there teaching the early adopters. Even technical organizations like the IET has begun to use MOOCs to help retrain their technical membership.

Source: Deloitte

Reference: Forbes Magazine, Huffingtonpost, Times Higher Education, PRWEB, The Star, The Wall Street Journal, The Fiscal Times, College Board, The New York Fed

Recommended For You