Sebastian Thrun, Udacity, and MOOCs Take A Pounding in Chronicle Article!

Dear Commons Community,

Coming on the heels of Udacity founder, Sebastian Thrun’s comments that his MOOCs are “a lousy product”, The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article of “told you sos” among long-time online learning professionals.  The article quotes George Siemens among others:

“We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product,” Mr. Thrun told reporter, Max Chafkin. “It was a painful moment.”

For critics of MOOCs and the hype surrounding them, that admission was perhaps the reddest meat in a lengthy profile that cast Mr. Thrun as a fierce competitor who came to online education only recently—after watching Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, give a TED Talk about his popular online tutorials.

But academics who have studied online education for longer than a few years were not surprised by the Udacity founder’s humbling.

“Well, there it is folks,” wrote George Siemens, a researcher and strategist at Athabasca University’s Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute, on his blog. “After two years of hype, breathless proclamations about how Udacity will transform higher education, Silicon Valley blindness to existing learning research, and numerous articles/interviews featuring Sebastian Thrun, Udacity has failed.”

“Thrun seems to have ‘discovered’ that open-access, distance-education students struggle to complete,” wrote Martin Weller, a professor of educational technology at the Open University, in Britain. “I don’t want to sound churlish here, but hey, the OU has known this for 40 years.”

I will offer a slightly different outlook. Without a doubt, MOOCs were over-hyped by the media, by the their corporate investors, and faculty course developers.  However,  as I blogged earlier, the MOOC  companies have significant resources at their disposal and they will refine and develop online learning materials from which we will be able to learn.  In all likelihood, MOOC companies like Udacity will become content providers and their products integrated with face-to-face instruction in a variety of blended formats.





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