You might want to read this New York Times article about Georgia Tech’s new online masters degree in computer science. The article is pretty good, reasonably balanced, and looks at the issue from (almost) all sides. Notable side missing, as usual: what students think.
The three leading MOOC providers, Udacity, Coursera and edX, have grown at a remarkable rate, adding hundreds of courses with dozens of college and university partners. But the path ahead is less clear, and all three are working with universities to find ways in which their courses can be used for credit.
This is true only for certain definitions of “growth.” Really, the MOOC providers have grown exclusively on the usual Silicon Valley premise of speculative, short-term bets that have little concern about long-term prospects. Certainly their revenues haven’t grown much; only their reach, as they manage to convince universities to give away the “content” of courses and teaching to produce a beneficial network effect for these private technology services.
The growth of private MOOC companies is driven almost entirely from financial speculation, speculation with an interest in private, short-term gain via industrialized scale. It’s worth imagining what other kinds of growth might be possible if we had the stomach for a different kind of speculation meant to benefit long-term social institutions like schools instead of just the market. There’s an alternate universe in which the NYT published a story today about how strong public investment in educational programs reduced costs and increased quality without selling the farm to bankers. One in which the key measure of “growth” is related to educational practice rather than industrialization. But that’s not our universe.