Have the Stanford MOOCs been a failure?

Recently I had a bit of a debate with a coworker who said that the Stanford MOOCs have been a failure.  While her point was more about why she didn’t think online education alone is good for our students with Highlands Community Charter School, which I don’t disagree with, I do disagree that we can judge MOOCs as a failure yet; especially the most open of them, such as the original Stanford MOOCs.

I think the question of “success” or “failure” is a matter of measurement.  I am sure that on some measures, Stanford MOOCs have been a “failure”, but I’m sure that to the thousands of students in developing countries who were able to successfully take a Stanford quality course for free would not call them an utter failure.

Further, I took some early MOOCs (before they were called MOOCs) with U.C. Berkeley, which was just a video series of lectures from the class “Physics for Future Presidents” and I am quite glad they video taped that class, and for the subjective sample size of myself, it was a resounding success.

And the future impact of any particular MOOC is hard to say, as history is littered with intellectual ideas that were not “successful” when they were first created, but someone later took an idea, such as Boolean algebra, and turned it into something that had a huge impact on society. It is hard to say whether someone who was in a developing country or even here, who took one of those MOOCs might not use that knowledge in a way we cannot even fathom.

So before we are dismissive of MOOCs because they haven’t “changed the world” in a few years time, could be similar to those who might have been dismissive of ARPANET in the 1970s, not realizing that it would be the seed of the Internet today.


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