Michael Kremer calls my attention to this post by Alex Usher (itself a response to this one). The significance of the post is three-fold: (i) one of the big corporate players in MOOC (massive open online courses) world, Udacity, is changing its strategy from competing with traditional universities to focusing on corporate training--this is accompanied by very forthright commentary by one of the intellectual (and corporate) pioneers of the very idea of MOOC; (ii) the mainstream press is silent on (i); (iii) there is, in fact, no mechanism to keep score on the opinion-leaders of the mainstream press (who have by-and-large been cheerleaders for MOOC and their corporate sponsors).
Over a decade ago the maverick economist, Robin Hanson from overcoming bias, tried to promote interest in (iii), but I don't recall what happened to his ideas.
Anyway, here is a generous excerpt from Usher's post:
There was a big story in MOOC-world last week, which the mainstream press has surprisingly yet to pick up on; namely, that Udacity, one of the three big corporate MOOC players, has just left the building.
Udacity, if you recall, was created by one Sebastian Thrun, a computer scientist at Stanford. It was he who kicked off the current MOOC craze by opening up one of his computer science classes to the world, and then finding out that 160,000 people around the world had signed up. Thrun left Stanford to start Udacity which, along with Coursera and EdX, has been part of the Holy Trinity of the MOOC revolution.
Last Thursday, Fast Company Magazine put out a story (hagiography?) on Thrun, which contained some staggering statements from the man himself, including:
(on looking at data on drop-outs) “We don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product”.
(on providing remedial education) “These were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives… it’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit”.
(on the value of Udacity courses) “We’re not doing anything as rich and powerful as what a traditional liberal-arts education would offer you”.
From a guy who cockily said he was on the verge of finding a “magic formula” for education, and that by 2060, thanks to MOOCs, there would only be 10 universities, this is some funny stuff.
Like everything else, MOOCs need money to survive, and providing them for free is a really bad way to generate income. The venture capitalists (VCs) supporting Udacity clearly came to the conclusion that the Udacity/Coursera strategy of losing money on every customer, and making it up on volume, wasn’t going to get them anywhere – hence the shift in strategy.
Strangely, no journalists seem yet to have had the cojones to call up various people who bought and amplified the story of MOOC-all-powerfulness for comment. Nothing from Clayton Christensen, or Clay Shirky, or Tom Friedman, or Don Tapscott, or any of the other techno-fetishist windbags who tried to make us all believe that the VC-funded MOOCs were an unstoppable wave of the future. This means that the techno-fetishists don’t get held to account (again), and we’ll soon all be chasing some other industry-disrupting deus ex machina.--Alex Usher