February 09, 2014

MOOCs have changed so much and yet they haven't changed anything. Let's face it - so far they have only helped to satisfy our curiosity about English Medieval poetry or to be entertained by Gamification. Can you get a degree online? Not really. Can you use MOOCs for on-the-job training? Nope. Can they help you prepare for CFA or Microsoft Certification exams and help you get a better job? Not yet. But I am sure that online learning will evolve and make all of this possible.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of online learning. I know that it works - I studied at Stanford for a year and half from Moscow. It was fun and tough, and intellectually demanding. And, yes, in the end it added some more coolness and credibility to my CV. I also know distance learning requires self-discipline - about 50% of the students in my groups never finished. The average MOOC completion rate is a shocking 4%, according to recent Penn GSE study. 

The New York Times declared 2012 to be the "Year of the MOOC." However, as the hope and hype about MOOCs fade, let's look at what's wrong with them and how they need to change. 


This May, TechCrunch and Udemy launched CrunchU, which is a TechCrunch sub-domain offering selected Udemy courses for geeks. It's unlikely anyone will disclose revenues, so let me guess. The CrunchU link disappeared from the top of the main page, now browsing the courses it involves a find-me-if-you-can hunt. This certainly wouldn't be the case for a cash generating machine.

What went wrong? Well, even if the courses are practical and offer useable skills, it’s not enough to motivate people spend hours of time after work. Learning for learning does not work. Learning for earning works well. And none of the MOOCs reach out to employers. It’s no wonder 300 million LinkedIn professionals ignore online learning, which could indirectly improve their CVs but does not open any doors to job interviews. 

The solution is in closer ties with employers. Online providers need to come up with mutually beneficial services including: job interview opportunities and real-world internships for top online students, distance projects and, of course, producing courses by company experts. In 2014 Google, Salesforce.com, and Autodesk are expected to offer courses on their APIs via Udacity. It will attract motivated, hard-working and smart prospective hires.

MOOCs need to better explain how taking online courses will foster the career. For example, TreeHouse provides informative career tracks with detailed roadmaps to becoming a web-developer. We at Eduson.tv show specific job opportunities and their real salaries for each course offered. Knowing you might earn $127K per year as a McKinsey associate appears to be quite an incentive to take Financial Analysis course. 


Some Coursera courses allow earning ACE credits (a standard in the US and accepted by 2,000 universities). But MOOCs have failed so far to offer the whole experience of obtaining a degree online. Udacity is giving it a good try by teaming up with the Georgia Institute of Technology and offering a master's degree in computer science (at the modest price of $7,000). 

The luddites out there are not giving up. University graduate committee is ‘investigating’ this online program and threatens to cancel it. Why, because online learning dares to challenge the status quo and poses a threat to the institutional monopoly of granting degrees. 

Being able to issue diplomas is essential for any education provider with serious plans. In the US, the lack of a higher education means saying good-bye to most decent jobs. In Asia higher education is a ticket to the middle class and many are desperate to get it. By 2020 China alone will have 50 million students. Fitting them in online classes seems much easier than in traditional classes.

The way for MOOCs to cope with conservative academics is by creating joint programs with universities. Independent project are likely to fail. The good news for US students is that the Obama Administration is betting on MOOCs making higher education affordable.


Companies can’t be left out of the online education equation - simply because they have the money. In 2012 the corporate learning market accounted for $135bn – 10 times more than the combined revenues of the major Hollywood studios.

MOOCs today, for the most part, can’t meet corporate training and development demands. Their courses’ catalogues aren’t rich in practical business content. Synchronous learning experience does not suit the business. Really, the 100 new hires all have to wait until April to learn about marketing? HR-managers need the tools to assign courses, create individual or group learning tracks, or view detailed progress reports on each user. Eduson.tv or Docebo are equipped with some of the tools. And, Udemy for Organizations (UFO) must be moving in the same direction.

MOOCs have a good chance of grabbing a large share of this market from the current players. Providers like Blackboard, SuccessFactors (SAP), Saba, Skillsoft will integrate monstrous Learning Management Systems for enterprise clients. But SMEs are left out in the cold because they can’t afford to write $300K checks.

Despite all the obstacles, I still see MOOCs as an unstoppable force that will soon move the previously immovable and very conservative education system. So, in my view, the revolution has just been postponed, not cancelled.

Announcing a new e-learning platform for individual clients: Eduson Academy
Find out more