2014: The Year the Media Stopped Caring About MOOCs?

The news media’s appetite for MOOC stories has been insatiable. So when the University of Pennsylvania sent an email inviting several hundred education reporters to a seminar on massive open online courses, it anticipated a healthy turnout.

But as the catering deadline approached at the National Press Club, in Washington, organizers realized that they had barely enough registered attendees to justify a platter of finger food.

“We didn’t have a set thing in mind as to how many would attend, but what we were thinking was 15 to 20 from, let’s call them, ‘established’ media outlets,” said Ron Ozio, director of media relations at Penn. “And we got four.”

The university canceled the event.

If 2012 was the “Year of the MOOC,” as The New York Times declared, and 2013 was the year of the MOOC backlash, what is 2014? The year that MOOCs ceased to be interesting—at least to anybody not working on them directly?

As the major MOOC providers have gradually distanced themselves the notion that they will reshape higher education, the existence of free online courses has become less sensational. Coursera’s new chief executive, the former Yale University president Richard C. Levin, last month reiterated that the company’s MOOCs should be thought of as “additive to what universities are doing, not disruptive.”

Stephen Downes, the Canadian researcher who co-wrote the first MOOC, in 2008, has been tracking mentions of MOOCs in the media since late 2012. His data suggest that news coverage has not waned. So are journalists still writing about MOOCs but not gathering to attend seminars about them?

“Truthfully, I just don’t know,” said Mr. Ozio.

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