Thursday, January 23, 2014

MOOCs and the Hype Cycle

I had been thinking about writing a blog post on how perception of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may be following a classic Gartner Hype Cycle. But when I started to research the post, I immediately found that others had already written about this. So I’m going to try something a little different – I’m going to point you to a few of those pieces and discuss them. –DK
MOOCs have been riding a roller coaster. Or at least the first big hill of a roller coaster. All during 2012, MOOCs were being hailed as the silver bullet that would solve the problems of higher education, and climbed from obscurity to the heights of fashion, appearing virtually every day in the higher education press, and a few times a week in the popular press. The New York Times even called 2012 The Year of the MOOC. But as the calendar pages flipped into early and mid 2013, something happened. MOOCs not only hadn’t quickly and efficiently solved Higher Education’s many ailments, they were also a threat to faculty jobs and to state university funding. And so, MOOCs were starting to get negative press, and were being dismissed as an idea whose time had passed. This point was nicely made in August 2013 in a piece in Slate called “Anti MOOC really is the new black” by History Professor and blogger Jonathon Rees.

Some of us have seen this basic pattern before. It starts with a rapid climb to inflated expectations and then crashes down to a trough of disillusionment. And then (sometimes) it climbs back up more slowly to a more reasonable level of attention and expectations. In information technology, this pattern was dubbed the Hype Cycle by the research and consulting firm Gartner.
Gartner's Hype Cycle

I’m inclined to believe that we are watching MOOCs climb up and fall down that first very large curve in the Hype Cycle and that MOOCs, or perhaps just the lessons they teach us, will end up leveling off at a more sane level, contributing in solid ways to teaching and learning. Some universities will leverage them well for some communities of learners, and lots of people will continue to pursue “leisure learning” in this way.
In a piece in the Times Higher Education (UK) called “The'hype cycle’ of Moocs and other big ideas,” David Maguire, vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich, mapped MOOCs and a variety of other topics in higher education onto the Hype Cycle, noting that many things follow this pattern – and encouraging higher education to learn to cut through the hype.

In a blog called “Motherboard,” tech-writer Meghan Neal also recognizes the Hype Cycle pattern in a piece called “MOOCs Are a Total Bust—According to the Hype Cycle.” She says that it isn’t time to declare MOOCs dead but it may be time for a makeover on the way to the “enlightenment phase.”

In July, tech-writer Ry Rivard of Inside Higher Ed wrote “Beyond MOOC Hype,” in which he reports on a slowing of the early MOOC momentum, a development that relieved some in the faculty community.

My favorite, though, was a piece called “MOOCs and the Gartner Hype Cycle: A very slow tsunami” written in September 2013 by Jonathan Tapson, Professor and acting Dean at the University of Western Sydney. This is the piece I wish I had written, and I really do recommend giving it a read. He nicely lays out the nature of the hype cycle and describes what we are seeing with MOOCs. He discusses some of the challenges that MOOCs have in providing direct interaction, and then notes that you can’t really get that at 99 percent of modern universities either.

Tapson then maps MOOCs onto the Hype Cycle and makes a case for it taking 9 or 10 years, rather than 9 or 10 months, for MOOCs to wind their way through. If he’s right, we may want to pay attention for a little longer before declaring them dead.

Are MOOCs following the Hype Cycle, eventually to climb the slope of enlightenment? Or will they crash down and disappear? Will they get the makeover that Meghan Neal mentions? Or will MOOCs fade away, leaving behind their lessons integrated into online and classroom education?

Leave a comment and share your thoughts.


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