Graph of the hype cycle.

The “Hype Cycle” is a representation, developed by Gartner Inc., of how technologies mature toward widespread social adoption. (Image by Wikipedia User: Jeffrey Kemp. License CC BY-SA.)

Jeffrey Selingo, a contributing editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education, has written extensively about online education and the emergence of MOOCs. In a New York Times essay adapted from his new book MOOC U: Who Is Getting the Most Out of Online Education and Why, he argues that low completion rates seen in most MOOCs should not necessarily be taken as a sign of failure.

But those metrics don’t take into account how MOOCs are being used right now. Students can register, with no financial risk, for as many courses as they want. Some might want to sample a particular lecture, or prepare a business plan for investors, or take a lesson for a presentation the next day.

Call it “just-in-time education.” These students hadn’t planned to complete the course, and they have nothing to lose when they stop taking it. The MOOC provides learning in chunks, at a student’s own pace. Read more…

This adjustment can be viewed as the next along the “hype cycle.” Self-paced just-in-time learning might confound some of the disruptive expectations laid upon MOOCs. But for many people, this way of learning seems to mesh quite well with the reality of their lives. It’s been a foundation of OpenCourseWare use for many years. And it could be forcing MOOCs up the “slope of enlightenment,” on their way to the “plateau of productivity.”