Thursday, November 15, 2012

Massive open online courses (MOOCs)

Something is in the works that could potentially turn higher education upside down.  Technology entrepreneurs are making college courses available to the masses.  Top professors at the very best universities in the world teach many of these courses.  One of the leaders in this effort is a technology startup called Coursera, which is working with universities to turn selected courses into MOOCs.  A single MOOC could enroll tens of thousands of students worldwide.

So far, the courses have been available for free.  Students completing an online course receive a certificate, but no academic credit from the university.  All that could be changing soon.

The American Council on Education (ACE) recently announced a joint effort with Coursera to determine the appropriate academic credit, if any, a university should give to a student completing a MOOC.  University leaders will be working with ACE to address issues in online delivery of college courses with an eye toward removing barriers to higher education – and tapping a vast market.

It is now clear why universities have been willing to provide some courses for free.  This has allowed them to understand the market potential for charging tuition, granting academic credit, and potentially awarding degrees to a multitude of students that require no brick and mortar investments in classroom buildings, dorms, dining halls, etc.

The implications are enormous.  With traditional college costs soaring, MOOCs taken for credit could make quality higher education more accessible than ever.  The traditional “college experience” could become a thing of the past.

Universities aren’t leading this charge.  It is being led by technology startups (some created by former professors) that advocate a new approach to higher education. Universities are cautious but are participating because they recognize this could be a game changer and they can’t afford to be left out.

There are clearly many issues to address with massive online learning and MOOCs.  This is something to watch carefully in the months and years ahead.

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