Have many teaching positions at traditional colleges been eliminated due to MOOCs (massive open online courses)? Is it as bad as industry jobs (for college-educated people) being offshored or automated?

I’m asking specifically about U.S. universities.

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    The straight forward answer is 'NO'. Though a few students like MOOC courses, classroom teachers can never be replaced by online MOOC courses. – Coder Jul 17 '17 at 12:34
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    Do textbooks put teaching professors out of a job? – Andrew Grimm Jul 17 '17 at 12:54
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    @AndrewGrimm, do textbooks do any sort of verbal teaching, lecturing, or hold discussions with students, either online-based or in physical classrooms? – user76208 Jul 17 '17 at 13:24
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    Tuition costs are doing that. If things continue where they are going, a college education will be little more than a certification that you have wealthy parents, or a huge loan to pay off; because if you could afford such high tuition with your own job, then you don't need the degree. The current MOOCs are one response to it, as are other resources such as YouTube, Wikipedia, etc. – Rob Jul 17 '17 at 15:16
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    @Coder Why do you think so? "Can never be replaced" is a strong statement. – Federico Poloni Jul 17 '17 at 22:16

No. From The Kernel, 2015:

Just a few short years after promising higher education for anyone with an Internet connection, MOOCs have scaled back their ambitions, content to become job training for the tech sector and for students who already have college degrees.

At what was arguably the peak of the hype about massive open online courses, the New York Times crowned 2012 as “The Year of the MOOC.” That was the year computer science professor Sebastian Thrun announced that, after an experiment teaching an online course that attracted 100,000 enrollees, he could no longer teach at Stanford; he was founding an online education startup, Udacity. That same year, his colleagues in the department, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, founded a competing MOOC startup, Coursera. Harvard and MIT also launched their own (nonprofit) MOOC initiative, edX. And universities around the world scrambled to partner with one or more of these organizations, amidst claims from investors, entrepreneurs, and pundits that MOOCs were poised to bring about the end of the university as we know it.

“In 50 years,” Thrun told Wired, “there will be only 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot at being one of them.”...

Yet despite these well-rehearsed and triumphant stories of MOOCs’ global outreach, the notion that MOOCs could provide higher education to everyone quickly proved flawed. The success stories were the exception, rather than the rule. MOOCs were lambasted for having a high dropout rate; the average completion rate still hovers around 15 percent, a level that would be unacceptable for a traditional face-to-face college class. And when the demographics of “successful” MOOC students were scrutinized in one University of Pennsylvania study, it was discovered that 80 percent already had college degrees. Rather than providing opportunities for the educational “have-nots,” MOOCs seem just as likely to further the opportunities of the educational “have-alreadys.”...

Thrun has abandoned his prediction that there will only be 10 universities in the future. What he’s retained is a story in which the only reason for post-secondary education is to fulfill the needs of employers—something colleges, he claims, do not do well.

  • I also read that some plausible theories are 1) MOOCs may actually increase student enrollment at traditional colleges; this is still to be determined, but the idea is that students learn enough background material from MOOCs and then want to seek degree-granting programs, namely master's degrees, to take the next step in their area of study (e.g. switching to a data science career), and 2) MOOCs may replace professors who teach in non-degree-granting programs; also still TBD... – user76208 Jul 18 '17 at 7:55
  • At least judging from the excerpt you quoted, the arguments given for the pessimistic view are not as strong as the authors make them sound. A MOOC (particularly, a free one) has a much lesser inhibition threshold for signing up; no wonder that the completion rate is so low! Nor would I expect MOOCs to immediately penetrate the non-formally-enrolled; it makes perfect sense for someone interested in a MOOC to be enrolled at an actual college as well, at least until MOOCs have substituted for everything they hope to get out of a college (which won't be too soon). ... – darij grinberg Jul 18 '17 at 11:45
  • ... I would not in the least be surprised if an enrolment decline happens for reasons other than MOOCs (e.g., political de-funding, a decrease in the prestige of a diploma, or another financial crisis), and then MOOCs will start substituting for colleges by capturing the demand that colleges can no longer meet. – darij grinberg Jul 18 '17 at 11:49
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    I think they came from the same line of thought that brought the paper will be extinct because computers idea. Or cars would make people stop walking... – Mindwin Jul 18 '17 at 12:14

As someone who is on a team running an MOOC, I would say that it depends on the context.

The main advantage of an MOOC is that it reduces the cost of access to standard content. If you are a teaching professor who teaches fundamentally the same course over and over, and there isn't a great deal of teacher-student interaction required, then it may be an issue for you specifically. However, an MOOC is not able to provide a great deal of interactivity with the teacher (largely, these types of courses are record, submit, and market), and an MOOC cannot replicate the experience of being in a lab or on a research team with peers who are all working on similar topics.

The main effect I have seen is a positive impact on smaller, less-resourced universities. For example, if a small university doesn't have the financial resources to hire enough faculty who are published experts on a topic, but published experts have created a course on an MOOC, then the university in some situations can have a professor "teach" a course in which 90% of the content comes from web-based sources. Larger, better-funded universities can still differentiate themselves by saying "we have the guy who made the course/wrote the book/etc.," and for the professor, this would be a new revenue stream because he can now reach the whole world with his course, as opposed to one university.

The changes brought by these new systems aren't going to be "bad," but MOOCs among other new systems are going to change the educational landscape, and it is good to think in terms of how you can make these changes work to your advantage.

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    Side note, but it's pronounced "moock", not "M.O.O.C."... so that means it'd be "a MOOC", not "an MOOC". :) – Mehrdad Jul 17 '17 at 22:14
  • @Mehrdad, some people abhor making acronyms 'pronounceable' saying simply "It's an acronym - not a word." – CramerTV Jul 17 '17 at 22:20
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    @CramerTV: Oh, didn't realize that :-) next time I see someone like this I'll be sure to talk about S.C.U.B.A. diving and L.A.S.E.R. surgery and Z.I.P. codes and such... =P – Mehrdad Jul 17 '17 at 22:23
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    @Mehrdad, haha - yes. Many of us have selective outrage about various things. The fellow I was thinking of decried people calling the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) 'jitters' - among others. – CramerTV Jul 17 '17 at 22:41
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    @CramerTV Sometimes I say "S.Q.L." instead of "SEE-kwəl", and people start twitching... – Nat Jul 18 '17 at 10:55

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Employment of postsecondary teachers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Growth is expected as enrollments at postsecondary institutions continue to rise, although it will be at a slower rate than it has been in the past. Many jobs are expected to be for part time faculty.

So the answer is NO. If MOOCs would put postsecondary teachers out of job on a large scale, their number would not be predicted to grow.

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