Introduction: Hundreds of thousands of students worldwide have flocked to enroll and participate in MOOCs, e.g. massive open online courses offered on collaborative networks such as Udacity, Coursera, edX, Udemy, and CourseSites. The courses offered are often generated within universities such Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology, Harvard, Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Duke University, University of Michigan, UC Berkeley and others who combine open-source learning content, video lectures, discussion forums, artificial intelligence, and crowd-sourcing. While the courses often include much of the same content offered in the traditional face-to-face version, the free online courses are neither credit-bearing nor are they recognized to the same degree as traditional courses for which students attend in-person and pay tuition. The concept of a MOOC is not new, it has been around for about ten years, but only recently have MOOCs garnered attention to a wide degree in main-stream media. When elite branded institutions pool resources to generate new platforms as a way to flex their reputations and contribute to an effort to offer free education, the outcome could be disruptive.At present, the MOOC model is in its early stages as educators reshape the landscape of higher education taking advantage of technology, advances in artificial intelligence and open-source course content. The MOOC model opens learning and college courses to anyone with an internet connection anywhere in the world. In fact, enrollments in MOOCs have been especially popular outside of the United States. For example, MIT’s first MOOC is said to have enrolled 154,000 students from 160 countries – where only 15 percent of the learners were from within the United States. Officials at edX concluded that more than 7,000 of the enrolled students passed the course. As another example, during the fall 2012 semester, Coursera was scheduled to be offering 116 MOOCs from 16 universities in diverse disciplines such as medicine, philosophy and artificial intelligence during the fall 2012 semester. Coursera has already partnered with 33 colleges and universities and claims to have enrolled more than 1.3 million students world-wide. That said; opportunities exist to be part of the innovation and part of the disruptive economy.
The emerging landscape is open to innovators to take advantage of the shifting landscape. In a Moody report published in early October, Karen Kedem, VP and senior analyst predicts that regional universities that chiefly attract students from surrounding areas could use MOOCs to broaden their brand recognition if they offer MOOCs while at the same time the report offers a cautionary signal that MOOCs will most hurt the bottom line of low-cost local colleges, primarily commuter campuses, and for-profit colleges. “The real threat is when other institutions are providing credit for MOOCs and really overlapping with the demographics” Ms. Kedem said. Therefore, it is imperative that institutions think strategically to make institutional decisions about teaching, learning, competency, value, market, financials, and need as it related to online education, open source learning, competency-based models, and transfer credit options.Given the movement of the MOOC arena, the opportunity exists for institutions to position themselves to become part of the paradigm. The Moody report observed that MOOCs are likely to impart at least six major credit effects, one being new revenue opportunities through fee-based services, e.g. licensing, degrees, proctored exams, certificates, or ads. A fee-based opportunity to offer a collegiate value for knowledge gained is transactional. Institutions as such could offer students a proctoring service to demonstrate course competencies in exchange for transfer credit on a fee-for-service model. Proctoring services would need to be secure and limited in scope as not to undermine an institution’s existing business model but expand it. Proctoring for transfer credit in a new and innovative fracture is likely to attract a revenue base while providing a service. In the short-term, institutions that already offer prior learning assessment, are liberal in transfer credit acceptance, and who have proctoring services on-site are most likely to step into the fracture and take advantage of new opportunities that MOOCs bring forward. Some in fact, have already done so in partnerships (See - Chronicle, Colorado State University Global Campus to accept transfer credit for courses on Udacity http://chronicle.com/article/A-First-for-Udacity-Transfer/134162/).
Another opportunity for the not so elite institutions are for faculty who are the campus rock stars to offer-up a MOOC as a means to bring attention to their fine scholarship and the institution as a whole. A successful MOOC from a small regional campus could bring much attention to the top-notch scholarship and teaching while at the same time opening the eyes of the MOOC participants to a campus they may not have ever heard of before. The opportunities are unfolding before our eyes – stay tuned and see where we are in one-years’ time!
Kedem, Karen and John Puchalla. 2012. “Shifting Ground: Technology Begins to Alter Centuries-Old Business Model for Universities, Massive Open Online Courses Produce Mixed Credit Effects for the Higher Education Sector.” Moody’s Investor’s Service, September 12.