In 2012 Carole Cadwalladr wrote about the possibility that MOOCs could lead to the end of universities. Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university? I have been asked to reflect on this question in my current studies
When Cadwalladr wrote this piece in 2012, I was of the view that MOOCs would not lead to the end of universities. This was due to research I read at the time following 2 cohorts of FutureLearn students (Liyanagunawardena et al 2015) which pointed to the majority of their students already being degree qualified. However, the debate has moved on and I feel this is a much more complex question to answer now, certainly in the UK against a context of higher fees for university education, and as the implications of MOOC development are becoming clearer.
- I feel that the UK University Model is moving increasingly towards a ‘consumer model’ of education. This is illustrated by some students requesting refunds and compensation for lost teaching time during the current UCU industrial action. Is it too far a step for students to start to compare traditional university degree v paid for MOOC degree as options?
- A recent piece in the ICEF monitor explores how major MOOC platforms are sharpening their focus on students prepared to pay for online learning – with Coursera launching undergraduate programmes which have been notoriously difficult to gain traction on previously. http://monitor.icef.com/2018/03/leading-mooc-provider-announces-full-degree-programmes/ and last month FutureLearn announced 5 post graduate degrees would be provided through their platform. https://about.futurelearn.com/press-releases/futurelearn-marks-fifth-anniversary-news-postgraduate-degrees-ou.
Each of the above undercuts the costs of a traditional university education with Coursera having a sliding scale of fees depending where you live. This could start to look like a viable alternative to the traditional university degree if fees are your concern, even though the UK student loan repayment system isn’t as simple as taking out any other kind of loan.
- Given the above articles, is there a sense that MOOC platforms are developing into online education providers for traditional universities and so will enhance the university offer rather than replace it, giving students more options over how and when they study?
- The initial point regarding the make-up of the MOOC participant population is valid but this is becoming less so as MOOC organisations link up with Professional Bodies, Governments and even NASA which grows exposure to MOOCs. Overtime familiarity with MOOCs as a model of learning will grow and probably become accepted as an alternative to traditional degree education.
- Acceptance by employers of the MOOC degree as an equivalent qualification to a traditional degree. I think this is potentially the biggest issue for MOOC degree providers at the moment. This requires a societal change of attitude and an acceptance from employers. I feel this will be a major challenge over the next few years.
I feel the two models can co-exist and that there is space for both. Whether, for this to happen, universities remain in their current form or have to reinvent themselves is another question.
Liyanagunawardena, Lundqvist K, Williams S, British Journal of Educational Technology 2015 vol: 46 (3) pp: 557-569 DOI 10.1111/bjet.12261