Blog Post

Why MOOCs Are Not A Bandaid for Higher Ed's Gaping Budgetary Wounds

A few days ago I wrote a blog called “If We Profs Don’t Reform Ourselves, We’ll Be Reformed (and we won’t like it)” listing four reasons why MOOCs are the center of so much hyperbolic attention, positive and negative, right now.   You can read that post here:

A few days later I heard from Lloyd Armstrong, who writes the educational blog “Changing Higher Ed,” who added a fifth important reason, which I agree with entirely:  far too many colleges and universities, desperate to close a gaping budgetary wound, are turning to MOOCs hoping they will magically solve the problem.  They won'tl  To date,   they don’t come close to paying for themselves and have an appalling drop-out rate of something close to 90%, hardly a way of serving one’s students.  


Also, if saving money is the reason to invest in MOOCs, you are going to offer up a terrible education---defnitely not the most innovative new possibilities for communal, peer learning that those of us associated with the digital media and learning movement are advocating.  In fact, the opposite. "Digital" is the only thing in common between our constructivist ambitions for great learning for kids in a digital age and the "MOOCs will save our $$ problems" logic.


Here’s an excerpt from Lloyd’s excellent column.  You can read the whole thing here:

"Davidson makes excellent cases for each of these points in her post. She closes by briefly describing some of the efforts she has encountered in her travels that are beginning to address some of these issues. Rather than weakening her excellent arguments by attempting to summarize them, I will simply recommend that you read the original.

I would add another reason to this excellent list that is a slight modification of the 3rd point above:

(5) Online education promises to be lucrative to nonprofits

Just as Davidson says that (3) really bothers her, I will say that (5) really bothers me. Many of the traditional nonprofit universities and colleges are jumping into the online business because they see it as a new source of much needed revenue. As a former administrator, I understand the need for new revenues as much as anyone, so I am a fan of increasing revenues. My concern is that in most cases the online initiatives are not being done in a way that incorporates the online education into the educational mission of the institution - it is a financial, not educational advance. As a result, little emphasis is being placed on educational effectiveness in many of the new online programs. I have great fear that when the educational outcomes of many of these new programs are evaluated, they will be shown to be relatively ineffective.  . . .       "  

Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, a 10,000+ network committed to new modes of collaboration, research, learning, and institutional change.  Along with a steering committee of scholars across many fields, Davidson has been directing HASTAC's operations since 2006, when moved to Duke University, where she also co-directs the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge.   She is author of The Future of Thinking:  Learning Institutions for a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and  Now You See It:  How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking Press). She is co-PI on the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions.  In October 2012, she and David Theo Goldberg, HASTAC's cofounders, were named Educator of the Year by the World Technology Network.   NOTE:  The views expressed in Cat in the Stack blogs and in NOW YOU SEE IT are solely those of the author and not of HASTAC, nor of any institution or organization. Davidson also writes on her own author blog, .  The paperback of Now You See It was published July 31, 2012 :


1 comment

I call it OLD ONLINE  which is around for 20 years .

I agree many colleges are using  OLD online courses in their curriculum just to make money even non profits. Cost of an 

online is very small if you have about 1,000 or so students per semester. But since one college cannot have that many colleges are charging the same as regular tuition of $ 1,500-3,000 per course and sure they make money .

There are good MOOCs and bad MOOCs .

Good MOOCs  by edx  has the same courses as oncampus courses . edx courses even not massive

do not cost too much may be $ less than $ 10 since they have more than 1,000 enrollment per course.

Therefore edx does plan to charge a small fee .

Unfortunately everybody things all MOOCs are good .

ONLINE must be provided by the best schools of the world to attract thousands and globally in order to be cost effective.