Udacity changes track

The big news this week in open learning is the change in direction for one of the largest advocates of open degree type courses Udacity. A profile of Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun published by Fast Company highlights the recognised problem of low completion rates in MOOC type open courses as being the reason behind Udacity’s switch in emphasis towards corporate sponsored technical and vocational training. However it does seem more likely that business models driven by company investors are behind this new strategy. Other points raised in this article:

  • Improving the quality of the course materials, interactivity, pedagogy etc did not appear to affect the low completion rates.
  • Open on-line courses were not a good fit for disadvantaged students outside the university system

The type of students recruited by open free MOOC type courses (they are generally already well educated) and the low completion rates of those enrolled are both valid issues. However when courses are free and open the commitment to completion is low and many enrolled students will do so for reasons other than certification and completion. I know this because I am currently participating in an open course on Global Health run on the Coursera platform by the University of Geneva and I have no intention of completing the course formally. Instead for me this course is an opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and perspectives which I am using to reflect on our Physiopedia project.

The implications of Udacity’s actions… I think over the coming year we may see other players in this market who are driven by the the bottom line also change focus as short term business models founder. Those that are driven by the desire to educate more widely and openly should not and hopefully will not give up on the MOOC model because in terms of learning it works and has global reach.