2012 the phenomenon Massive Open Online Courses, MOOCs, developed from an experimental phase to becoming well established globally. “College may never be the same” was the title of an article in USA Today, describing the potentially disruptive nature of MOOCs. The “may” in the title seems to become more of a “will” as time goes by. The article, “Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs, Transform Higher Education and Science” in Scientific American describes the development and the impressive growth, in terms of students enrolled, number of respected universities on the main platforms Coursera and edX, as well as the number of courses given.
What makes MOOCs disruptive in nature is the low incremental cost to add one more student compared to an on-campus course. There is almost no upper limit regarding how many that can take the same course simultaneously, resulting in an overall low cost per student. This in itself would be enough to disrupt the present higher education industry. However, MOOCs also hold the potential to result in a number of additional benefits. They open up for lifelong learning, the barrier for those that already have a degree, those that have a job and feel too old to go back to university are now gone. This is also confirmed by the age distribution seen for the in initial MOOCs so far. In addition, MOOCs can be taken from wherever you are in the world as long as you have an Internet connection and a computer. As recognized in the two above mentioned articles examination is still to be sorted out and will not be free, but the cost for the student will anyhow be a fraction compared to an ordinary education.
Following standard industry and market logic, extreme low cost competition will significantly increase volume but also decrease the overall price level forcing incumbents to act. This development will most likely drive consolidation and a shake out. We may get a situation where the diversity of education may be depleted. Giant global education groups may form. Another effect of global reach may be early talent scouting, eventually concentrating the best brains in the world to a few locations leaving smaller universities with limited possibilities to keep and attract talent.
“The industry has operated more or less along the same business model and even the same technology for hundreds of years,” says John Nelson, managing director of Moody’s Higher Education, in the USA Today article. “MOOCS represent a rapidly developing and emerging change and that is very, very rare.” This dramatic change is indeed rare and will have a huge impact, not only on the present higher education industry, but also in terms of lifelong learning, educating developing countries, talent management and recruitment, globalization of education and research.