The New York Times has an article describing the disappointing results that massive open online courses have posted recently. Some selections from the article:
"Only about half of those who registered for a course ever viewed a lecture, and only about 4 percent completed the courses."
"80 percent of those taking the university’s MOOCs had already earned a degree," meaning that they were not reaching the disadvantaged audiences they claimed they hoped to reach.
"The online students last spring — including many from a charter high school in Oakland — did worse than those who took the classes on campus."
The article focused heavily on Sebastian Thrun, an artificial intelligence professor, founder of a MOOC (Udacity), and wearer of Google Glass, who retorted, “Few ideas work on the first try. Iteration is key to innovation."
The problem, Sebastian, is that this is not the first try. People have been recording lectures since Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. If technology could replace teachers, it would have already begun replacing teachers. If anything, the student/teacher ratio has gotten smaller over the past century.
Many of the MOOCs have provided "access" to mentors. This model has been a flop as well, as these mentors are merely cheerleaders. More skilled, more involved mentors (aka teachers) would certainly help, but would not be popular with venture capital, as the model would not be "scalable."
To that end, the successes the article cites are when the teachers and professors themselves use some of the MOOC videos to supplement their instruction.
The only technology that helps students has been technology that helps teachers: photocopy machines, for example, or free videos. Technologies that try to replace teachers are doomed to failure.
The article ends with this delusional quote:
“The next challenge will be scaling creativity, and finding a way that even in a class of 100,000, adaptive learning can give each student a personal experience.”