Finding A Path To Growth In A Post-MOOC Era
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How To Grow In A Post-MOOC Era

Just a few short years ago, there appeared to be a shift in eLearning underway that many expected to revolutionize all of higher education. At the time, companies like Udacity were leading the charge into a new form of online coursework, known as massive open online courses (MOOC). The concept seemed as simple as it was brilliant: create freely available online coursework designed for unlimited numbers of participants. The theory, they argued, is that scale was the key to driving down educational costs for the masses.

Since then, however, most of the initial momentum towards MOOCs has dissipated. Udacity itself has quietly restructured most of their offerings and shifted its focus towards enterprise clients, in a tacit admission that their original model didn't work. That has left an odd kind of vacuum in the eLearning market, where costs seem to be rising for students looking for alternatives to traditional brick-and-mortar educational institutions. Here's a look at why that's happening, and where the opportunities for growth appear to be in the post-MOOC era of eLearning.

The Flaw In The MOOC Model

As the MOOC wave began to crest, industry experts and insiders started to look at the underlying causes for the struggles such courses encountered. It turned out that most MOOC approaches suffered from dismal completion rates that hover as low as only 5.5%. The numbers indicated a critical flaw in the MOOC concept: that engagement tends to be low when learning lacks interactivity.

In short, students grow disinterested and detached when they aren't in participatory environments. They also tend to drop courses when they encounter difficulties, since the MOOC model doesn't allow for much-individualized support. In other words, it was clear that the problems with the MOOC model were entirely structural.

A Shift From Massive To Personalized

The lessons learned from the MOOC experience have led to a resurgence in personalized coursework, which includes content versioning and individualized support services. The problem, of course, is that developing those elements costs money and eliminates many of the advantages of scale that eLearning platforms hold over brick-and-mortar institutions.

The increased overhead has created an environment where online degree programs may cost more to attain than a comparable degree at an in-person university. That's bad news for eLearning platforms at a time when student debt relief is a priority for most learners. Still, the latest generation of personalized eLearning programs are attracting more students and, so far, are producing better results. The question remains, though: can they be profitable?

Opportunities For Growth

If today's eLearning platforms can remain viable long enough to overcome the hurdles posed by the increased development costs of personalized coursework, they may yet regain the cost advantages they once held over traditional institutions. In the meantime, there does appear to be an emerging growth opportunity that may help them to bridge the gap between where they are now and where they hope to be in the future.

The opportunity lies in leveraging the poor completion rates of MOOC models to create a gateway to more advanced degrees. The MicroMasters offering from edX is a perfect example. It offers learners direct credits towards a traditional advanced degree upon completion of the low-cost courses. In this way, it functions as a pre-screening method for some universities to find qualified applicants (those with the drive to see courses through to completion), while providing an inexpensive onramp to a quality education. In a way, it's fair to call such programs MOOC 2.0, and their success so far could soon make them the underpinnings of the whole eLearning ecosystem.

What Comes Next

The key takeaway from the MOOC experience is that scale, in and of itself, doesn't guarantee positive outcomes. On the contrary, MOOCs tended to reinforce the idea that learners require individualized support as a prerequisite for success, not just access to quality coursework. The good news for the eLearning industry is that there appears to be a middle ground approach that could create a whole new avenue for digital learning platforms to thrive – one that sidesteps many of the problems that made MOOCs unsuccessful but doesn't cost a fortune to implement. Time will tell if it's a winning formula but, so far, there's every reason to be optimistic. Stay tuned.

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