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What the MOOC

To MOOCers and shakers in the world of higher education, the question about MOOCs now is not merely “to MOOC or not to MOOC”, but “how to MOOC strategically” when more and more universities are jumping onto the bandwagon of MOOCs. This month, the two major MOOC providers Coursera and edX both announced that they have successfully attracted many more institutions to partner with them. Coursera, in addition, has partnered with several major publishers, such as Macmillan Higher Education, SAGE and Oxford University Press, to provide teaching and learning materials to the students at no cost.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses. The massive coverage of discussions about MOOCs in the media, both pros and cons (see ACA Newsletter - Education Europe, February 2013), have convinced both enthusiasts and sceptics in the world of higher education that MOOCs, like global university rankings, are “here to stay”. More and more universities, including Yale University, which have been hesitant to join the MOOC race, are compelled to MOOC along with their peers.

Believe it or not, MOOCs are all over the place, in the newspapers, in conferences, and even in university board meetings. According to a Gallup survey and some follow-up enquiries conducted by Inside Higher Ed, US university presidents are under increasing pressure to look into the impact of MOOCs on their “business model”. However, most of the presidents are sceptical about the potential of MOOCs in improving the learning of all students or solving colleges’ financial challenges, as opposed to the trustees from the business world who are keen to rush into the MOOC race.

On the other hand, some MOOC optimists continue to test the water. Georgia Institute of Technology, partnering with AT&T and Udacity Inc. (a private MOOC provider), has just announced a plan to offer a fee-paying MOOC master’s degree programme. Students formally “admitted” to the programme will pay a fraction (approx. USD 7 000 / EUR 5 500) of the tuition fee of the same on-campus offer to complete the programme online in roughly three years. The business model is built on a multi-track system, allowing all the learners to take the courses for free, while charging some others based on the credentials they desire to obtain. In other words, the students pay for the degree or credits rather than the content that they obtain online.

In the current MOOC race, the spotlight has been following the speed rather than the best. Being the first is all that matters to make a splash in the media. The rules of the game may soon change, however, with more MOOC players, including platforms and content-providers from all around the world, going into the field. By that time, perhaps it would not be a big surprise to see university rankers stepping into the scene to bring some order to the chaos. After all, global university rankings and MOOCs (in their current state) have involved more or less the same group of flagship universities, whereas MOOCs seem to provide exactly the missing indicators of “teaching quality” and “community engagement” that rankers have been searching for years.

The future is difficult to predict. What is sure to happen on 10 October 2013 is ACA’s next policy seminar on MOOCs. Save the date and come MOOC with us.



Georgia Institute of Technology 

Inside Higher Ed