Gartner’s Hype Cycle as Springboard – MOOC and Public Policy

A common theme in early MOOC criticism was a linking of the MOOC to Gartner’s Hype Cycle.

Certainly, a lot of hype accompanied the MOOC…more hype than for any EdTech innovation in education history, and perhaps more hype than for any learning model (or even agent of change) in higher education history. Spurred by a media narrative focused on a broken educational system, the MOOC was heralded not only as a means of providing cost-efficient education, but doing it through the best universities and professors in the world, for the entire world, in a way that would break down existing conventions of class and privilege. In short, MOOCs could crumble a bloated ivory tower while providing an education of higher-than-existing quality to individuals from around the world, eradicating student debt all the while.

Use of the hype cycle in discussion of MOOCs looked at the learning model as a present artifact that needed attachment to a history. That history could be MIT’s OpenCourseware, Columbia’s Fathom, Yale & Stanford’s AllLearn, the use of television in education (such as Nebraska Educational Telecommunications of the 1960s), the use of radio in education, or even the establishment of correspondence-based schools in the late 19th Century (such as Cornell University’s satellite school of correspondence). None of these innovations proved to be game-changers for higher education; moreover, almost all of the above were deemed failures by the developing institutions.

But the MOOC is ahistorical, borne of an intersection of machine learning, computer science and a TED talk by Sal Khan. It cannot be rated entirely on the history of similar distance education ventures, if at all.

If 2012 was The Year of the MOOC, one would expect 2013 to begin the MOOC’s path into trough of disillusionment. And to be fair, the MOOC has encountered more criticism* from a wider array of thinkers and researchers since The Year of the MOOC. But the hype continues to soar. Education continues to be broken. MOOCs continue to focus on their model successes. And history’s biggest backer of education is maneuvering to make the MOOC more than a flash in the pan.

Since The Year of the MOOC, state and federal governments have proposed and/or enacted these policies:

  • A rethinking of college accreditation, either through linking federal aid to student outcomes/value/affordability, or establishing a separate accreditation model for education initiatives based on “performance and results” (State of The Union – Supplemental Materials)
  • State funding for the development and establishment of online courses designed to assist students in subject remediation and dissolve wait-lists for college courses (State of California 2013-2014 Budget)
  • State legislation designed to require colleges to accept a number of MOOC courses for campus credit (CA Senate Bill 520)
  • State legislation designed to create a fourth system of higher education in California, the New University of California, which would not offer any courses but provide credit based on examinations (CA Assembly Bill 1306)
  • State legislation designed to allow a state organization to accredit individual courses provided through organizations rather than universities (Florida Senate Bill 904)

There’s more — Christopher Newfield has a great rundown at his blog — but the list above has garnered substantial media attention and political movement. The California State University system continues to utilize MOOC providers in offering courses, extending an agreement with EdX for 11 CSU schools to offer a course in Circuits & Electronics, as well as the test-run of three remedial courses through the Udacity platform, courses developed and implemented with public money. This wave of political action has been met with high-level calls for a rethinking of college accreditation in our rapidly changing world.

This is not symbolic of a trough of disillusionment, but rather a springboard into a new reality. The concept of higher education is changing, fast. Before the ink is dry on the first round of peer-reviewed MOOC research, political movements are shaping a higher education landscape designed to support the MOOC and its endeavors. Whether the talk of globalized, democratic education is hype and bound to slide down, the landscape has changed, even if the legislators have yet to sign the contract.

What does it mean? Idle speculation isn’t helpful. But it would be wise to heed the advice of George Veletsianos and make sure to have a voice at the table of decision-makers who are designing this future of education.

* – I hate pointing this out, but criticism is not a bad thing. A critical perspective is an integral part of developing any system, structure, idea, theory, etc.

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10 thoughts on “Gartner’s Hype Cycle as Springboard – MOOC and Public Policy

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