To MOOC or not to MOOC

Hype-lifecycleAsking universities to support MOOC’s is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. However the Ivy-league universities and their pretenders may not be the ones that decide if MOOCs will be successful or not.

MOOCs were touted as being a disruptive technology that would change universities for ever and would send some of them to the wall. More hype is being piled on top of the already very large mound and the MOOC balloon is still going up. David Maguire, vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich describes the hype cycle (click image to enlarge) in the following way (original article published in THE):

Right at the top of the peak of inflated expectations is the concept of “shared services”. The idea that universities can radically reduce the cost of business by simply sharing between them services such as payroll, IT, security and catering is much oversold.

For me, two ideas that are sliding down from their inflated peak are the concepts of “the student experience” and “student engagement”. For some time, we have been exposed to the mantra that students have new rights and expectations as consumers, and that we must engage with them at every opportunity because co-production of knowledge is central to learning. There is also an arms race under way, as universities try to build the biggest and best student housing, climbing wall or swimming pool to entice new “customers”. But has anyone tried to get students involved in quality enhancement these days, or asked them how important vanity buildings are to their choice of institution?

Bang at the bottom of the trough of disillusionment, I place philanthropic giving. A few years back, many universities invested to take advantage of the government’s matched funding scheme: development staff were hired, giving campaigns spun up and worldwide alumni contacted. Outside a small group of old universities, however, vice-chancellors are now wondering: “Where’s the real return on investment?”. Realists are beginning to see that this is a long game and that many of its benefits are not financial in nature, such as mentoring, internships, advisory board memberships and guest lectures.

Also rising from the depths of the cycle trough are customer relationship management systems (CRM) which have been grossly over-hyped for many years now, often by marketing departments wanting their own toys. Populating the databases, connecting the systems to the rest of the IT enterprise and integrating with business processes was a challenge. But to my mind, at that stage CRMs were talked down too far and now we can evaluate them more dispassionately, seeing them as useful marketing and student recruitment tools.

I sometimes wonder what is fuelling this hype cycle. Is it government pressure, consultants who want to offer their services, thought leaders who want to create an agenda, an overactive media? Or perhaps it is just a natural consequence of the diffusion of innovative ideas. Whatever the answer, universities should be first to cut through the hype.

On another tack is the optimistic TED presentation by Anant Agarwal