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MOOC’s Achilles Heel

achilles-heel1The ancient warrior Achilles had only one vulnerable spot, MOOC has three potential vulnerable spots.  MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) is not exactly new, but some of the participants running MOOC are.  I’m not talking about some fly-by-night business Website that is not accredited.   I am talking about prestigious universities that are offering free courses for credit:  MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Yale Harvard, and Duke and more.  All that is needed is access to the Web and some time.  And yet, the completion rate is low and the failure rate is high!  Duke University’s Coursera MOOC program, which registered 12,700 students, had only 350 finish the course–that’s a 97% drop out rate (Rivard, 2013).  A lot of students from high school to retirees are jumping on board, but leaving the educational train before it completes its journey.  Why?

The first MOOC was created back in 1995 in a project called, “Space Island’s,”  which was logged into the Library of Congress in 1996 as the first long distant online educational program ever done in history.  The course study was on space flight and space station research.  The courses and lessons were free, as today, and reached over 2.3 million students and teachers in forty nations.  I know this program well, because I’m the one who developed and managed it.  The program started out as a high school project but then exploded into global historical event.  Based on my past experiences and the evolution of the Web I think there are three vulnerable spots that MOOC needs to patched up.

Issue #1 :Student Knowledge Expectation
I took and finished my B.S.I.T. degree through the University of Phoenix online course.  The first thing I learned was the college’s posit that I had to have already knowledge and experience in the subject matter.  For example, one of my courses was programming in JAVA.  No problem for me, I had taught computer programming since the early 1980’s.  From FORTRAN to BASIC, Pascal to C, from C++ to JAVA.  When given a project to create a program in JAVA I was expected to know the software and how to program.  Several of my student colleagues went into panic mode when asked to develop a program they had never learned.  They expected the class to teach the course, when in effect the course had expectations of already knowing much of the subject matter.  I found this true in many of the online university courses.  In the words of Albert Einstein, “Information is not Knowledge.”  MOOC requires knowledge to succeed.  For the most part, the courses are not taught, they are designed to evaluate your knowledge in the subject matter.

Issue #2: Teacher vs Facilitator

dropoutOnline courses don’t have teachers they have facilitators.  In addition, many of the MOOC online courses have online videos lectures.  Now, there’s an innovation!  Okay, so you are a high school or jr. college student already bored with sitting in a class taking notes.  You read about a course you can take for credit on the same subject you are learning in school, and it’s free!  Unfortunately, you must listen and watch a 30 to 60 minute video.  Head goes down at this point.  The statistics gathered from MOOC (Flowler, 2013) shows the best attention span for a lecture is somewhere between 6-9 minutes.  Not new to elementary and secondary teachers.  But, college professors are not trained to be public speakers nor how to engage student learning.  It is expected that students will motivate themselves.

The video, if you are lucky, is probably the only visual you really will see.  The majority of the class interaction occurs on a message board.  Not much different than receiving a text or email.  The interactions can become stagnant when you find the only way you can express yourself is using the Bold key, CAPITALIZING words, or making the same graphic texting symbols you use on your cell phone.

Issue: #3:  Technology Evolution

When I launched ‘Space Island’s” back in 1995, the browser was just coming into existence, telephone modems (300 baud) were used to connect to companies like AOL and CompuServe.  Some people were still using their own television screens as monitors.  The interactions were still by emails, and many of the images were still being sent via FTP site servers.
However, 18 years later, technology has evolved into real-time interactions with the ability to access multimedia, hypermedia, and many forms of interactive and engaging technology.  Yet, I was still seeing simple and boring PowerPoint presentations, videos that were not streaming correctly, and communicating with the same black and white text formats in Times Roman I had used 18 years before.
Today’s students need engagement and interaction.  Even the Baby-Boomer generation has evolved into the new world of technology selections, and are learning how to use them.   Universities that are providing MOOC programming must realize what makes up their audience.  The age group, subject knowledge, background experience, and reasons for taking MOOC programs needs to be addressed.  Facilitators need to be replaced by teachers, and 21st Century visual interaction needs to be implemented to make these programs work.

Achilles was young, arrogant, and self-assured that he was invincible.  However, if MOOC’s efficacy is to prove out the above three issues need to bypass the hubris of college and university MOOC status quo programming and move from the inuring on-campus traditions to addressing ancillary 21st Century learning.   Comments are welcomed.


Flowler, Geoffrey A. “An Early Report Card on Massive Open Online Courses.” The Wall Street Journal. WSJ, 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://on.wsj.com/19gcXKX&gt;.

Rivard, Ry. “Measuring the MOOC Dropout Rate.” Weblog post. Researcher Explore Who Taking Moocs and Why so Many Drop out. Inside Higher Ed., 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://bit.ly/10oGf7Q&gt;.