It seems as if only yesterday massive open online courses (MOOCs) were all the rage. The New York Times proclaimed 2012 as “The Year of the MOOC” because they gave students an alternative to traditional classroom education, providing free online courses (for no credit) from some of the most elite institutions in the world.
In 2013, reality set in. Statistics started showing that while many enrolled, few completed the courses despite little or no cost. Then, late last year, one of the pioneers of the movement came out and said MOOCs were “a lousy product.”
“I think that’s just honest, and I think we should have an honest discourse about what we do,” Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of MOOC provider Udacity, told Fast Company. “Online education that leaves almost everybody behind except for highly motivated students, to me, can’t be a viable path to education. We look back at our early work and realize it wasn’t quite as good as it should have been.”
Thrun and other providers in the industry have decided to change course a bit, putting more emphasis on employee job-training classes for corporations, according to a report from National Public Radio. The updated platforms are being designed to include more human support for students, such as the “learning hubs” Coursera is developing that will provide a weekly in-person instructor.
“We have people almost 24/7 that help you when you get stuck,” Thrun said. “We also added a lot of projects that require human feedback and human grading. And the human element—surprise, surprise—makes a huge difference in the student experience and the learning outcomes.”