Why Haven't MOOCs Eliminated Any Professors?

3 guesses.

May 16, 2017

The evidence is in. More robots equals fewer jobs.  

If MOOCs are a sort of robot, then why haven’t the MOOC robots taken the faculty jobs?  MOOCs seem like the poster child for technological unemployment. Some 2016 numbers show that 58 million people have signed up for MOOCs, with 700+ universities offering over 6,850 courses. The faculty job market may be grim, but I don't think that MOOCs are the cause the chronic fragile and underemployment of postsecondary educators.

Those hyping MOOCS (but not those involved in actually teaching MOOCs) loved to argue that the world would be a better place if we could just create one course to rule them all. The thinking went that if we could just create just the right hyper-immersive simulations, and pair them with just the right big data tuned adaptive assessment engine, that we could finally bring higher education into the world of digital economics and internet scale.

And yet, as far as I know, Massive Open Online Courses have not replaced any professors.

How could this be - and what might this observation tell us about the future of robots?  I don’t have the answer to this question - maybe you do - but I do have some guesses.

Guess 1 - I’m Wrong - MOOCs Have Displaced Professors:

My conclusion that MOOCs have not replaced professors is based on what I’ve observed, rather than on solid data. And as we know, generalizing from one’s own limited observations is the fastest way to get into trouble.

Perhaps some of the carnage in the for-profit higher ed world has been due to MOOCs? Or maybe MOOCs are displacing professors teaching in non-degree programs? 

I don’t think that I’m wrong in my overall assertion about MOOCs and faculty jobs - but this assertion is worth checking out.

Guess 2 - MOOCs Have Actually Helped Professors:

I’m squarely in the MOOCs have actually helped professors camp. The reason is that what MOOCs do, and what professors do, are two totally different things.

At its best, a good MOOC is about more than just the content. A good MOOC can create a new learning community. It can connect lifelong learners to educators, campuses, and each other - and do so in a way that is not possible through other mediums.  MOOCs are even becoming funnels and pathways into traditional postsecondary credentialing opportunities - a way to convey an alternative (low-cost) credential while accelerating the path (and lowering the cost) for advanced training and certification.

What MOOCs can’t do is mentor, coach, guide, and connect. The role of the professor is in part to profess - but in much larger part to educate. The educator / learner relationship at the heart of all high quality postsecondary education can no more be scaled than any other crucial human relationship.  

MOOCs have thrown into sharp relief just how valuable an education is that is built upon relationships. If a MOOC replaces a course, then perhaps that course should be replaced.  If an expensive credit bearing course offers little more in terms of the student learning experience than a MOOC, then that course (and those credits) are overpriced.  

Guess 3 - MOOCs Are Enlarging the Postsecondary Pie:

How could a Massive Open Online Course create more, rather than less, employment opportunities for professors?

One possibility is that MOOCs can enlarge the demand for postsecondary services. Rather than cannibalizing traditional enrollments, it may be that MOOCs are serving as a gateway drug (or at least a funnel) for matriculation.

A situation where MOOCs increase student demand, and hence faculty employment, could come about if MOOCs bring non-consumers into the postsecondary market.  

Alternative credentialing may have the unintended consequence of driving credential inflation.  We know that the undergraduate diploma is the new high school degree, and perhaps the masters degree is the new bachelors.  If lots of job seekers can show certificates from completing open online courses (beyond a bachelors), then the relative value of an undergraduate degree will diminish - pushing more of the working age population into masters programs.  This is indeed exactly what we have seen, with postsecondary growth concentrated at the masters level.

There are other ways that MOOCs may convert non-matriculated individuals into enrolled students (and hence drive demand for faculty).  MOOCs may be on the cusp of rewiring the admissions funnel for graduate programs.  We could plausibly see a move away from an emphasis on Google AdWords as the primary awareness building, aggregation, and sorting mechanism for (masters level) graduate programs - replaced by accelerated (and more affordable) admissions pathways through programs like edX’s Micromasters.  https://www.edx.org/micromasters

Am I right? Have MOOCs enlarged, rather than shrunk, the higher ed pie?  

Could MOOCs actually be good for professors?


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