I started this post before attending EDUCUASE and I put it aside thinking that my perspective might change. It didn’t. It still appears to me that there are three major themes driving interest by universities in Massively Open On line Courses, or MOOCs. First, for some to universities it is a marketing or public relations activity. The huge number of students, most of whom either do not have the means nor the traditional qualifications to attend these universities now can be taught by some of the “greatest professors in the world” and best of all, for “free” (free as in someone else is paying for them).
The second reason is the allure of incremental revenue. With the continuing economic recession and state and federal cutbacks, institutions are looking for new ways to add revenue. Physical plant (e.g., classroom space) or human resource limitations (e.g., faculty and staff) may prevent simply increasing enrollments.
Third, MOOCs may represent a new Internet gold rush where institutions want to carve out some space on the web before other universities do even though the financial model has yet to be worked out.
So a few institutions have the resources (i.e., extra cash for experimental projects) to test the concept themselves while most seem to be using third-part services which do all the work for making the institutions IP widely available. Of course, these provides also take the majority of the profits which in many cases is north of 80%.
There seem to be two big questions on the horizon. First, if MOOCs do go mainstream and become a viable model for institutions, when do they figure out that they do not need the third-party middle men? That is, why not take the work back inside the university and reverse the allocation in their favor (they get the 80% of the revenue).
The second question is, while the current technology infrastructure is open source, when do the institutions simply utilize their existing campus LMS infrastructure? Granted, the LMS providers will need to provide some additional features and capabilities to their systems but surely this will be more efficient than developing what appears to be an alternative LMS platform. Case in point, after about a decade, Sakai the open source LMS seems to be imploding given most of the original university funding partners now walking away from the project.
While MOOCs seem to have some promise to providing greater access to learning they have not yet figured out how to provide access to “education” with all the associated credentials. While some might scoff at this and say that alternatives like badges are all that will be required in the future, that has yet to happen and I would argue that most employees will be slow to jettison the traditional degree. But to provide certificates and eventually actual credits, someone, and most likely the student themselves will need to pay. At that point, it may be difficult to differentiate MOOCs from traditional university on line programs.