There have been plenty metaphors for the MOOC movement; some very apt, some rather exaggerated and a few downright silly. An article by Martin Weller about the launch of the UK MOOC consortium FutureLearn, FutureLearn & The Role Of MOOCs, defines MOOCs as a shop window for higher education in a similar way as open educational resources. They offer millions a chance to learn from top universities and will stimulate an interest in learning and a thirst for more. They're not going to smash the system but will settle into a necessary and worthwhile niche once the hype dust has settled.
"The MOOC hype is settling down now, and I feel that FutureLearn is really an indication of what it may well end up being. Forget the "end of universities as we know them" rhetoric, ignore the "all education will be this way one day" commercial wet dream - MOOCs will be as OERs. And that's a good thing. OERs are now available from providers all over the globe, they make a big difference to the way many people work. But they haven't really fundamentally changed what we do in education, they've allowed new models and enhanced others."
MOOCs should be seen rather as marketing campaigns that benefit both the university and the thousands of learners who will study them. The success of a marketing campaign is decided by how many people that are more attracted to your institution as a result, not by the number who didn't react. MOOCs are not competing with regular courses, they are marketing the benefits of education. It's essential that they are well designed and offer a quality educational experience but the number of learners who complete such courses is not particularly relevant to judging their worth.
Weller's closing remarks are spot on: