The Walking Dead

How the MOOCs sector has evolved to the needs of today’s learner

Remember 2012? It was another crazy election year when we thought we knew what crazy election years were (I would pay to go back to that normalcy). We lost Whitney but gained Marissa as Yahoo!’s CEO to right the ship. There was the normal mix of hope, disappointment, excitement and wonder of what’s next. But unless you are an edtech connoisseur, you probably missed what this year was really known for: 2012 was coined the year of MOOCs.

You remember Massive Open Online Courses? Companies like Coursera, Blackboard, Edx, and Udacity provide online courses aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. Additional resources for each course typically included traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets. MOOCs have generally also created interactive user forums to support social learning interactions among students, professors, and teaching assistants. In 2012, MOOCs were a very big deal and recognized as a popular mode of learning after being introduced in 2008. This new way of learning was crowned as the successor to traditional universities. And it isn’t hard to see how advocates of MOOCs came to this ambitious conclusion given:

But it’s 2016 and the revolution wasn’t televised or streamed. Students are still applying and enrolling into colleges. During my research, I Googled “MOOCs are dead” and got the results below. Since 2013, there seems to be a consensus that there isn’t a consensus of whether MOOCs are dead or alive or a zombie hybrid.

“Since 2013, there seems to be a consensus that there isn’t a consensus of whether MOOCs are dead or alive or a zombie hybrid.”

It’s my belief that MOOCs are not the disruptive usurpers they were deemed to be in 2012, but they are resilient innovators that have adapted and redefined their purpose based on the needs of the market. I think this shift in expectations is baked into the growth projections of the industry. Research & Markets anticipates the MOOCs market will grow to USD 8.50 Billion by 2020. That doesn’t look like a dead market but it does show how startups in this edtech sub-sector have adapted to the change in the education, technology, and economic environments. It’s very similar to how proponents of fintech startups assumed the unbundling of the bank would overthrow the financial services industry. The following are quick notes how MOOCs have adapted to needs of specific stakeholders:

  • Students: Many agree that the structured format of traditional academic programs is typically too backward looking. More and more college graduates are not greeted to the real world with a job offer. MOOCs give students an opportunity to engage in coursework that reflects skills needed in the ever-changing job market. Lastly, with the growth of platforms and for-profit colleges that provide online education opportunities, it’s important that edtech startups help students match their skill gaps to the optimal course or degree. (Examples I’m bullish on: Coursera or Quero Education)
  • Employees: Last year the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that over 40% of the workforce is now made up of contingent workers. Contingent workers consist of agency temps, contract company workers, independent contractors, and self-employed workers. I anticipate this segment of the US workforce will grow given the increase of remote teams and computing power eliminating more automation roles. MOOCs have met the needs of the flexible employee by providing credential courses that are being well received by potential employers. The future worker will need to be able to assess her skill set and given their goals be able to choose the right online course that will provide the credentials to obtain her next opportunity. (Examples I’m bullish on: Academy Xi and Accredible)
  • Employers: As more quality courses are placed on MOOC platforms, employers will begin to have specialized online learning created as an incentive to keep their employees and to keep their hires updated on the latest trends within their function or industry. The employee training module industry is one that is stagnant (in the late 90s) and needs to be disrupted. I believe MOOCs can take advantage of their quality courses, brand, and insights from previous data to take this market. (Example I’m bullish on: Udacity)
  • Colleges & Universities: This stakeholder group was initially characterized as the enemy of MOOCs but are now critical as strategic partners. MOOCs were once thought of as the “great equalizer” in the higher ed space that would provide access to those who generally can’t attend an Ivy League school. But early research has shown that some 80% of MOOC users around the world already have an advanced degree. But as more leading universities partner with MOOCs to provide a repository of quality courses, I’m confident individuals in lower income communities/countries will eventual gain access these resources. The question is just when and what startup will solve the when question. (Example of Good Work: MIT)

Earnest Sweat is an Entrepreneurial Engineer for Camelback Ventures and an Investor in Residence for Backstage Capital. If you have any questions or requests please connect with Earnest through LinkedIn or Twitter.

If you liked what you read tap or click “♥︎” to help to promote this piece. #readingEarnest

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.