The Impact of MOOCs Over the Next Twenty Years

Are MOOCs the future of education in 20 years or an intermediate thing? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Joseph Konstan, Computer Science Professor, University of Minnesota, on Quora.

I think MOOCs are part of an ongoing evolution that dates back to at least the invention of the textbook (long long ago). This trend has had at least two key elements over centuries:

1) An emphasis on providing fixed forms of "lecture material" so that students could boost their learning with self-study (or even replace some classroom learning with self-study);

2) The inclusion of exercises to help students learn better as they progress (sometimes with answers provided, sometimes intended as quick assessments and other times as larger explorations).

Today's MOOCs add a bit more to this structure--the use of video, course discussions, automatic grading ... but they fundamentally are very much like the next generation of textbooks. And that might help figure out where the future will be:

1) There will be people who learn directly from MOOCs, but also uses of MOOCs as "texts" that support students learning directly from live teachers. The business models aren't fully there yet, but the idea of using expert-recorded lectures and other materials goes way back (my first-year computer science class used some videos from MIT's introductory series).

2) The form of today's MOOCs will continue to evolve. One benefit of MOOCs is that with massive enrollments comes massive data. We're already seeing MOOCs much more closely driven by research on what supports effective learning, and I expect we'll see that refined substantially over the next 20 years as we learn more about what works--and for whom.

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