Are MOOCs Just Going Through a “Hype Cycle”?

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While MOOCs seem to be the latest and greatest phenomenon to enter the world of online education, Ry Rivard suggests that MOOCs are merely going through a “Hype Cycle,” and predicts that “the mania over massive open online courses may be slowing down.”

Identified by Gartner Inc., an IT research and advisory company, a “Hype Cycle” describes the process by which new technologies are at first greeted with tremendous enthusiasm, reaching a “peak of inflated expectations” – but eventually level off after the initial excitement dissipates and more realistic understandings set in.

In the case of MOOCs, Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, suggests that the trend may have achieved so much popularity because MOOCs provide a high quality product for a wide audience at a low cost – sometimes even for free.

However, after the initial dust has settled, educators are beginning to take a step back to evaluate the plusses and minuses of MOOCs, and what their role should be within the realm of online education. “We’ve jumped right into the ‘chase’ without much of a discussion about what problems they could help us to solve,” said Dan Greenstein of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We have skipped the big picture of where higher ed is going and where we want to be in 10 or 20 years.”

Meanwhile, Sloan Consortium’s 10th annual survey has reported that only 2.6% of higher education institutions currently use MOOCs, and another 9.4% report that they plan to use MOOCs in the future. The other 88% of Chief Academic Officers are either undecided, or have no plans to offer MOOCs in the future.

“Academic leaders remain unconvinced that MOOCs represent a sustainable method for offering online courses,” says the Sloan-Consortium report. But they do believe that MOOCs “provide an important means for institutions to learn about online pedagogy.”

What does this mean for the future of MOOCs? Will MOOC popularity continue to rise, or will popularity drop and then level off, as Gartner’s Hype Cycle predicts?