An anonymous reader writes "Ever since Stanford's Sebastian Thrun and Google's Peter Norvig signed up 160,000 people for their online artificial intelligence course last year, educators and entrepreneurs have been going ga-ga for 'MOOCs' — massive open online courses. A new article in Technology Review, The Crisis in Higher Education, gives a balanced overview of the pluses and minuses of MOOCs as well as some of the technical challenges they face in areas like machine learning and cheating detection. The author, Nicholas Carr, draws an interesting parallel with the 'correspondence course mania' of the 1920s, when people rushed to sign up to take courses by mail. 'Four times as many people were taking them as were enrolled in all the nation's colleges and universities combined.' That craze fizzled when investigations revealed that the quality of the teaching was poor and dropout rates astronomical. 'Is it different this time?' asks Carr. 'Has technology at last advanced to the point where the revolutionary promise of distance learning can be fulfilled?'"