If at First You Don’t Succeed . . .

I’m not sure MOOC’s can succeed as their first iteration.  Sebastian Thrun has much the same feelings.  A free Ivy League education does seem like a great idea, but in practice people seem to desire the motivation of a professor and a brick and mortar classroom.  Just like a gym membership attendance falls off shortly after signing up.  A poll of one million people who have signed up for MOOCs, half have even watched a lecture and only 4% complete the courses. (Lewin 2013)  Though this isn’t much different from some harder classes in brick and mortar colleges.  I took Programming and logic, a basic java programming course, and of the 28 people who started the course 8 were there to take the final.  My professor even stated at the beginning of the course that there was a 14% retention rate, which we beat that semester by 4 students.  Overall though a 4-7% graduation rate for MOOCs,  depending on the article, is dwarfed by the 17% graduation rate from University of Phoenix online and the 51% for SUNY Albany. (Chafkin 2013) (Forbes N.D.) (Lewin 2013)  Do note though that all three of these are big fat F’s.  It certainly does seem that higher education could use some updating and help with retention with graduation rates just above half.

Faced with the poor results of the first step in free online education, it seems that Udacity has changed it’s business model.  Their current plan is like a three-way partnership.  Students apply to classes from Georgia Tech, they get Georgia Tech professors, but the material is hosted by Udacity while the seed money was put up by AT&T in the hopes that they would get new engineers when all was said and done.  The 3 semester course leading to a Masters in Computer Science is substantially cheaper than actually attending Georgia Tech, but the class is largely experimental and the results remain to be seen. (Chafkin 2013) This signals a move from teaching solely college courses to vocational training in job skills that are needed by corporations that are willing to help foot the bill.  Though not the establishment shake up that Thrun had in mind when he started I believe that this kind of partnership is beneficial.  Having students spend $6,600 for graduate classes to obtain a masters in Computer Science seems like a bargain compared to spending over $24,000 to obtain a Master’s in liberal arts at a public university.  Especially when comparing the job prospects and earning potential of those two degrees and factoring in the cost of each.  I believe that this incarnation or something similar will be the success of MOOCs, despite the altruistic intentions of their inception free courses do not seem to bring the results desired for the amount of money spent.


Chafkin, Max. 2013. Fast Company. “Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather of Free Online Education, Changes Course.”
Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3021473/udacity-sebastian-thrun-uphill-climb

Forbes. N.D. “America’s Best Colleges: #410 SUNY, Albany.”
Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/lists/2010/94/best-colleges-10_SUNY-Albany_94388.html

Lewin, Tamar. 2013. New York Times. “After Setbacks Online Courses are Rethought.”
Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/11/us/after-setbacks-online-courses-are-rethought.html


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