By now most people have heard of Massive Online Open Courseware (MOOC) and there are several consortia composed of top universities that offer access to these free and scalable courses to anyone. With offerings from, among others, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the courses cover many subjects using material from respected professors. There are not many strategies to monetize the course offerings and some believe that it is not really about the money. However like with any new distribution channel there is a rapid adaptation going on as the content creators try out new methods of defining success.
Up until now, there were not many university administrations that felt threatened or even concerned with MOOCs because they didn’t understand the ramifications and more importantly, no one received any academic credits for their courses. The MOOCs were just an expression of educators seeking to provide knowledge to students seeking self improvement. Now the landscape is changing as companies act as proctors and issue “certificates of completions” to the learners. More to the point, San Jose State University is starting a project with Udacity to offer credit for three introductory math classes. There is also a meeting planned for this month which could have implications for the University of California system as representatives of both Udacity and Coursera meet with the Board of Regents. This is just the beginning of a complete rearrangement of the higher education process.
Some of the MOOCs have 100,000 to 150,000 learners and a portion of them are forming groups by meeting in person or meeting through social media. This is where it gets interesting because human resource professionals are looking at the online participation of potential candidates. Right now many institutions of higher education which do not stand at the top of rankings are viewing these developments and wondering about their futures.
Another development in education is experiential learning (EL). It will not be long before MOOCs and EL blend together. One version of the symbiotic blend is motivated by this: the real driver of education content is employers. They are taking an increasingly active role in not only determining what content is relevant to professions but they will want to participate in deciding what standards are used for granting credit. If a professional association of accountants or agronomists can use a MOOC platform to offer classes for credit and create the content from cutting edge research delivered by experienced practitioners to supply the profession with prepared graduates, why wouldn’t they?
This all distills down to the arguments about the purpose of education as well as the cost.