Previously I presented an introduction and overview of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). They have certainly created a stir not just in academic circles but also in government and the popular media. The concept of offering high quality courses from leading universities to the masses and at no initial cost has generated animated discussion regarding the future of education delivery models in many circles.
So what’s the prognosis for MOOCs? Ingenious and socially commendable, but sub-optimal and unsustainable? Or the beginnings of a disruptive new model that will alter how higher education institutions ultimately deliver education options and determine which institutions thrive or survive?
I believe it’s a disruptive new model, but one whose proponents haven’t yet discovered the combination of key factors for their future success. And those key factors, in my view, are:
- Development of optimal price points for such offerings.
- Validated (i.e., from an established, vetted source) certifications of competencies, hence MOOCCs (Massive Open Online Certifications of Competency).
- Aggregation of a series of MOOCs and MOOCCs that result in accredited programs/awards in specialized fields, or MOOPs (Massive Open Online Programs).
Let’s consider each of these factors.
Optimal Price Points
There is no such thing as a free MOOC. Everyone understands that, yet some persist in attempting to offer that model. But what can’t be sustained won’t be sustained. It’s only a matter of time. The real question isn’t how to create offerings of free, but rather of value. And the following question is how to price such offerings to attract and serve a broad spectrum of interested parties.
In popular culture, the experience of Apple’s iTunes presents a good example of this. Movie and record companies resisted the disruption caused by digital distribution of their copyrighted works. Numerous sources emerged to distribute copies for free. Legal battles and operational cost issues raged until Apple came up with a price point sensitive business model that ultimately resolved the issue. So too in time, will the MOOC offerors.
In time, I believe that those MOOCs that offer validated certifications of competency (MOOCCs) will drive the development of a sustainable business model for such offerings. Coursera and Udacity are already beginning to offer such certifications, commonly referred to as “badges” now.
Regarding such badges, there are numerous badge formats emerging from a variety of sources, including the Tin Can API and Mozilla’s OBI. The future standardization of such badge formats (and issuer validations) will greatly accelerate the ubiquity and perceived value of MOOCCs. Furthermore, it will generate additional online services for the storage, aggregation, and distribution of the badges earned by students from all sources (MOOCCs, academic institutions, corporate training sources, etc.). Such “universal learning records” will put students in control of their own certifications.
Lastly, the accelerating drive to certifications of competency will eventually lead from MOOCCs to MOOPs, or programs/awards comparable to what are now degrees, but likely much more focused and compressed in terms of time required. And while such MOOPs may initially start with professional skill areas, they will likely expand to much broader areas of knowledge dictated by emerging research and specialized fields of endeavor. Whereas Bachelor, Master, and Doctoral programs and degrees once defined the awards for achievement in higher education achievement , these will be supplemented by shorter term and more specialized awards for the online MOOPs.
Ultimately what these two new online trends will force institutions of higher learning to re-evaluate are: better standardization and methods for certification of competency, and greater flexibility and less term-dependent awards for expertise in emerging fields of knowledge.
MOOCs are the beginning of this process, and they are leading inevitably to MOOCCs and MOOPs.
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About the author: George Tamas, CEO of Governet, the creators of CurricUNET and the Worldwide Curriculum Network, is an authority on Web-based solutions for higher education and author of The Geo Chronicles.