I think there’s a strong connection between the cMOOC popularity and HE becoming more expensive (thus more exclusive and harder to access) and the notion that intellectual “recreation” (using your brain to express the sheer joy of having just having a brain) is a common need for humans. It isn’t that education has failed so much as it’s become restricted and narrowed into a product that supplies predictable results, like a toaster.
Also I think there could be found a strong connection between educational administration being populated by a business management mindset. At the college where I worked the executive book cases are full of guides to understanding the world by metrics appropriate to the ebb and flow of, well, toasters–functional products. It’s easy to see students in this environment being manufactured to numbingly familiar and easy to measure base-models and then xMOOCs coming in to “customize” by adding features like degrees of crispness or extra wide slots for Texas Toast.
The xMOOC is a perfect solution for a world seeking only employability from education. The Udacity Fordist Familiarity Featurizer.
By the way I grew up less than a mile from one of two particle accelerators and hardly noticed anything.