San Jose State University has put its massive open online course (MOOC) project on hold because more than half the students in the pilot program failed their online courses, with pass rates for some classes as low as 20 percent. George Anders suggests that Silicon Valley philosophies don’t translate well into higher education:
Lots of Silicon Valley startups try to make a virtue out of a hit-and-miss approach to product development. It’s common for software companies, in particular, to bring not-quite-proven ideas to market in a hurry, so they can be rapidly refined or quietly kicked aside as public feedback comes in.
This approach, known as “failing fast,” is admired and celebrated in tech circles, where it’s seen as a way to speed up innovation. But education may turn out to be a fiercer, more unforgiving domain.
After all, major universities have spent decades—even centuries—building their reputations. It’s vital that they be seen as having students’ best interests at heart. It’s unlikely that other schools will want to risk the stumbles of San Jose State’s pilot program. The likely result: schools will put pressure on MOOC developers to do whatever it takes to succeed slowly, rather than being in a hurry to fail fast.
Will Oremus wonders what will come next:
It’s a sure bet that somehow, at some point, online instruction will indeed reshape higher education, if perhaps in more modest ways than its most ardent backers assume. Missteps are part of the process. Still, this is not the first heavily hyped online-learning venture to make headlines for going dramatically awry. The question is, what university will be eager to offer up its students as the next lab rats in what amounts to a massive pedagogical R&D program by for-profit Silicon Valley startups?