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line education at scale," he said. But the term could work,
he allowed, if the evolution of the MOOC is seen as more
of a Cambrian Explosion, in which a large number of new
approaches are appearing quickly and disrupting the eco-
system as a whole.
"There isn't one course format to rule them all," he said.
"There never will be and there never should be. MOOCs
were and are just one potential collection of approaches to
organizing a course."
An Ongoing Evolution
In fact, said ACE's Sandeen, "MOOC" may be a sexy buzz-
word for the press, but for those in the thick of educational
research it's just another stage in the ongoing evolution of
online learning. Even among the big three providers, it's an
imprecise category, she noted. Coursera is all about global
access, so "massive" was always part of its strategy, as was
partnering first with elite universities to gain enrollments.
Udacity was always about a higher level of instructional de-
sign and the use of analytics. The resulting MOOC was a
much more vertically integrated and controlled product. In
the middle is edX, a nonprofit that integrates a high degree
of instructional design into its programs but provides little
instructional design support for institutions.
"The MOOC is going in all sorts of directions," Sandeen
said, "which is understandable. But we at ACE still be-
lieve there's some promise in the idea of using MOOCs to
help students gain degrees. Some institutions will accept
MOOCs for credit if they have third-party validation associ-
ated with them, and usually some authentication. And some
employers may consider MOOCs on job applications. So
there are many different ways in which this story will con-
tinue to unfold."
The most exciting thing about that unfolding story, said Mi-
chael Wesch, associate professor of cultural anthropology at
Kansas State University, is the way those who are experi-
menting with and changing MOOCs are dissolving catego-
ries and "making us rethink what it is we're actually up to."
"'MOOC' is not so much a definable thing as a rallying
cry to serve people who cannot come to traditional higher
ed institutions," Wesch said. "The term has taken on a lot
of baggage, but I suspect we won't be using it for much
longer. The truth is, it's never been at all clear what people
mean when they say 'MOOC.'"
Gerry McCartney, CIO at Purdue University (IN), is no
fan of the MOOC in higher education and said corporate
training is a much more appropriate application of the mod-
el. However, he applauded the MOOC makers for demon-
strating that "content has almost no value."
"The money is not in the content," he said. "It's not in the
material, and it never was. I can watch The History Channel
and learn a whole pile of stuff, but I don't get college cred-
its for that. What a MOOC does is automate a part of the
process that was already fairly low value. That's what the in-
vestors missed. You're not hitting the high-value part of the
equation. It's not just a question of, well, now we can get the
best Chaucerian professor in the world and have her teach
one class to everyone in the whole world. They can just go
read her book if they want that experience. It's the personal
interactions with the people who are in the room with you
--- the instructors, the other students --- that have the value.
And that's not scalable."
Amin Saberi, the Stanford associate professor of manage-
ment science and engineering who developed the NovoEd
platform, argued that Thrun's pivot has within it something
essential for the evolution of the MOOC in higher education.
"We need that kind of willingness to acknowledge les-
sons learned and to make changes accordingly," Saberi
said. "We maybe don't think of him as humble, exactly, but
this shows a kind of humility that we need to move forward.
The technology of the Web and online education are going
to continue to have a disruptive effect on higher education,
but MOOCs are just one model. We will all be learning our
lessons and then applying them in slightly different ways as
online learning evolves."
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Mountain
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