February 5, 2013 by Andrew Spinner
One of my many roles at @Understoodit includes conducting onging analysis and research of education technology tools and trends. One of the most interesting and heavily discussed areas relates to what is known as Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOC for short. MOOCs are like your typical university style class – a professor, students, homework, and exams. However, these courses are open to anyone, anywhere in the world, and the majority of them are completely FREE.
Your immediate reaction might be that these courses might not be reputable or have the same quality instruction compared to a school you attended, but this couldn’t be further from the case. Organizations offering MOOCs have agreements with extremely reputable schools and professors. For example, you can attend a course on Artificial Intelligence for Robotics at Stanford University. Self-driving cars anyone? As you can see, this isn’t your typical Intro to Geography (although I’m sure that’s offered somewhere too). Courses can range from basics to the most advance courses around…free.
There are a growing number of MOOC platforms where you can sign up and attend the courses. Some of the most reputable platforms include: Udacity, Coursera, and EdX. These platforms have gained considerable attention because they either have raised venture capital and/or have been started by very reputable institutions. When you take a step back and think about this, you have to be somewhat blown away! Did you ever think you would attend a course put on by Harvard professors? Now, you can find out for yourself and participate. It’s amazing how far learning has come.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the ins and outs of MOOCs.
- Arguably, the most significant strength of a MOOC is the ability for anyone around the world to be provided with a free post-secondary education. Have an internet connection? Check. You’re ready to go. This is a HUGE barrier that is removed for so many people that are not financially able to enroll in a university or college. As well, students will now be able to learn new skills in more depth than a Khan Academy video, although I still think Khan Academy is bad ass.
- As well, for some reason I think of many friends who are between career moves, waiting for the next leg of their education to start, or just curious about learning new skills. MOOCs provide the flexibility to take the class that might start at different points in time, other than the traditional start dates of a university semester.
- Price… you can’t compete with free. Although some MOOCs are now charging for certificates and actual credit (which I’ll dive a little more into below), anyone can attend nearly any MOOC course for free and learn.
- Interaction…Some may think a MOOC is a great substitution for taking a higher education course at an institution you may be already enrolled at. I would’t suggest this, as one of the most effective parts of being enrolled at a school is your interaction with the professors, along with having that campus experience of being apart of a community and making new friends. Having the ability to ask professors specific questions and visit during office hours are great ways to ensure you are getting the attention you need, to hammer home the subject matter. With MOOCs, much of this interaction is lost, substituting this interaction with peer forums, where you can ask questions and receive answers from your fellow MOOC classmates.
- Credibility…I’m not talking about the actual courses themselves, rather the credibility you would receive trying to use a MOOC course as credit towards a degree. Currently, most MOOCs you take will not result in receiving any credit which you would be able to apply against for a degree. It’s completely supplementary. However, some MOOCs are charging for this valid credit, and has become their way of generating revenue. However, one MOOC (there could be more, I just haven’t stumbled upon them yet, so please do share in the comments) is offering credit that can be applied towards a degree, and it’s FREE. Check out MOOC2Degree if this interests you. I’ll elaborate on their business model shortly. For now, we’ll have to wait and see how universities recognize MOOCs, transfer credits, etc.
- Money…They are mostly free, but the revenue opportunities for MOOCs is actually quite significant, depending on how they set up their business model. MOOC2Degree is offering courses for free, for credit. What’s the catch? Schools that are participating in MOOC2Degree are of the belief that students around the world will want to enroll at their institution once they see how great their MOOC style course is. Essentially, it’s a free trial of a product, which you as a student have something tangible to take with you afterwards. For MOOC2Degree participating schools, they are potentially going to increase their enrolments. Does the reward (incremental revenue earned from newly enrolled students who learned about the school by participating on MOOC2Degree) outweigh the risk (cost of allowing professors to spend time teaching these free courses)? Maybe, it’s too early to tell, and there’s no statistics.
- However, there are some big revenue opportunities. These MOOCs have massive user basis, which many consumer brands companies would love to expose their products to. For example, that Artificial Intelligence course I mentioned above had over 150,000 students enrolled the last time the course ran, as mentioned by this NY Times article. Advertising can potentially play a huge role in keeping MOOCs afloat (or quite lucrative) while remaining free for students.
- Corporate Training…The corporate training market is one that has money to spend. MOOCs can tweak their setup and create courses tailored at specific subjects that would appeal to the corporate audience, who would pay if its worth their while. If you’re a law firm, would you rather have an in-house lawyer chop together a course on criminal law or a top ranked Harvard professor?
- Social Causes…the lack of quality education around the world is no secret. There are so many programs being implemented that are helping this issue, such as OLPC and even Datawind‘s cheap tablets. The accessibility of internet connected devices is quickly spreading all over the world. MOOCs may become that next level of education in the developing world.
- Continuing Education…this is a big market MOOCs can really exploit. People with jobs, families, and busy 9-5s are looking to upgrade their skill set, or learn something new. Cost is usually less of an issue for them, as many take courses while working, but taking a free course is more preferable. MOOCs provide the flexibility of distance learning without the significant costs.
- MOOCs…They are getting very popular and tons of media coverage. The number of MOOCs are only increasing and it will be a challenge for them to distinguish themselves from each other. Finding large scale ways to obtain feedback and adapt the course accordingly will be a big challenge.
- Traditional Universities and Colleges…Since MOOCs are so new, we just don’t know yet if students will use them as testing grounds before enrolling in a given school. Traditional schools play a role in keeping students away from MOOCs.
I know many of you might not have ever heard of a MOOC. I am curious your thoughts on this. I was baffled by the idea when I first discovered it, and it’s something that continues to grab my attention. While writing this post, I actually signed up for a course on Gamification. See ya in class :)