MOOCs are becoming increasingly popular and the effect of such a trend on the traditional university presents both an opportunity to grow and a threat of being replaced. This is largely determined by how traditional universities are going to respond and whether they’ll be able to reinvent their business model so they don’t charge fees for learning and their course content is made available for sharing and collaboration while they remain financially sound. This is a key uncertainty about the future of higher education.
Another key uncertainty is whether MOOC hosting services (MHS) such as Coursera, Edx, Udacity, etc. will be successful at developing a financially feasible business model to support their existence. Some revenue models have already been identified, but whether any of these models will stand the test of time is yet to be seen.
These two key uncertainties are operating in a context where 1) current technology has enabled the delivery course content through a new medium: the web 2) the cost of high education is continually on the rise, 3) Open educational resoursec (OER) are becoming more and more available, 4) the have-nots realizing a need for quality education after they’ve experienced it through the provision of MOOCs.
These drivers of change will help shape the outcome of the above mentioned uncertainties and the result could be one of four interesting scenarios.
Scenario 1: MHSs realize financial success/Traditional Universities reinvent themselves
With both parties being successful at finding a way forward the future looks bright. The number of MOOC hosts will increase and more HE institutions will join the wave resulting in an abundance of online course offerings. Universities will become bodies of authority to validate the learning and grant credentials as needed. Open source education will flourish and global collaboration will be a key feature of HE. Universities will become hubs of social interaction and collaboration of local students using international course material from other universities perhaps.
Scenario 2: MHSs fail to be financially viable/ Universities reinvent themselves
Offering free MOOCs will become a cause for charities where NGOs will find the technology a useful means by which to extend quality education to the have-nots. Universities will adapt more flexible learning. Course content will continue to be closed. Sharing and collaboration will not be at the forefront of the learning process. Universities will increase their ability to reach a wider audience of international student yet they’ll charge for the online services. Students will continue to have to pay for HE. A small number of universities will dominate the online international student market with paid proprietary MOOC offerings. Learning will be more modular and branded certification will be more sought after.
Scenario 3: MHSs fail to be financially viable / Universities remain traditional
Universities will continue with business as usual and free valuable MOOCs will be a thing of the past. More local HE institutions will appear to cater for the need of lower HE fees. Course content will continue to be proprietary. MOOC hosting services will become charities delivering MOOCs relevant to the cause and delivered to targeted audience of students. Universities will continue offering some MOOCs as sign of good will, a means to integrate with the wider community and as a marketing tool for their paid offerings, but they these offerings will be largely reduced and will not compare with the on-campus equivalent
Scenario 4: MHSs realize financial success / Universities remain traditiona
MHSs will come up with cost effective ways to offer accreditation to their students. Universities will become elitist institutions for HE targeting their services at wealthy students who can afford to pay the very high fees of face-to-face exclusive education. Small local universities will be driven out of the market first and the remaining ones will down size and staying in business will be tightly connected to the strengths of their brands. Local community centres, local churches, etc. will pick up the role of being the medium of delivering and localizing international MOOC offerings. More MOOC providers with local focus will emerge. Sharing and worldwide collaboration will be central to education and localized study groups will emerge creating a strong spirit of community around learning.
While none of these scenarios is likely to occur on its own, the picture that they paint together gives us a good idea about what might lie ahead of us and can well inform our ability to act today in the light of what might happen tomorrow.