With the economic pressure to obtain bachelors and masters degrees, more and more people are attending or returning back to college. Yet in this age of technology, the traditional university pathway faces a formidable threat: massive open online courses (MOOCs). The offer of free college-level education paired with no specific business model seems like an odd mix, but the idea is rapidly gaining traction. Two Silicon Valley start-ups, Coursera and Udacity, have captured the attention of investors, technology companies and even universities themselves. EdX, a collaboration between Harvard and MIT, and FutureLearn have accrued similar interest and business potential.
Coursera offers several courses at no cost to learners through video lectures, peer review and quick assessments. Millions have already subscribed and while critics note the high dropout rate (up to 90 percent), Coursera attributes it to the ability of users to freely browse through courses.
MOOCs can also be taken through edX, and similar to Coursera, edX covers a colorful assortment of topics. The courses are also free unless students seek Verified Certificates. Otherwise, members can present free honor codes upon completion.
EdX and Coursera, which currently partner with 85 colleges, highlight healthy relationships between universities and MOOCs. Low and mid-tier universities without the same alliances may be in trouble. Why pay up to $70,000 a year when a MOOC serves up courses and credentials for a bite of the price? It’s only the Ivy League and universities of comparable caliber that don’t have to worry too much. Their prestigious reputations and exclusive alumni bases will still attract students worldwide. Some of these institutions do encourage MOOCs and some others sniff the other way; notably, Oxford and Cambridge choose to ignore their rise.
Nevertheless, the rise of MOOCs does appear in England as well. FutureLearn, currently in beta mode, also offers a variety of courses from Shakespeare to Higgs-Boson. The company’s phone app emphasizes that any learner can learn at any time. Additionally, FutureLearn wants to create a web of communication by allowing students to comment at any point of a video lecture and collaborate throughout taking a course.
Unlike the previous three companies, Udacity focuses on vocational education and training employees. Udacity partners with firms like Google and ATT, offering Verified Certificates in various topics, though primarily in engineering and technology fields. The courses and videos themselves come at no cost, but students must be paying subscribers to access the other learning methods and obtain Verified Certificates.
With a huge percentage of non-paying users, these entities must find some way to reap in profits besides through Verified Certificates. Coursera actively pursues its partnerships with corporations. Companies like MasterCard, AT&T and Shell sponsor their employees to complete MOOCs like web applications and behavioral economics. Other firms turn to advertising, which seems like an appalling addition in an educational setting.
The Guardian quoted New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman about MOOCs, stating that nothing “has more potential to lift people out of poverty.” Naturally, access to free, college-level education taught by credentialed professors greatly levels the playing field. Yet statistics suggest that most learners already hold some type of degree – FutureLearn boasts the lowest percentage, 30 – not to mention, the staggering dropout rate. But all current praise and criticism reflect a tiny snapshot of what MOOCs have accomplished.
MOOCs certainly contain an element of uncertainty. Their relative young age leads to questions surrounding their authenticity. Their lack of business model creates speculation over long-term economic viability. Their emergence as a free alternative to obtaining a degree could undermine the present expectation of attending college.
Anders, George. “Coursera’s New Goal: Teaching At Firms Such As MasterCard.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 20 Aug. 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2014.
“The Attack of the MOOCs.” The Economist Magazine, 20 July 2013. Web. 21 Aug. 2014.
“The Future of Universities: The Digital Degree.” The Economist Magazine, 28 July 2014. Web. 30 June 2014.
Wilby, Peter. “Moocs, and the Man Leading the UK’s Charge.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 19 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 Aug. 2014.
Image Credit: Levine, Alan. “Moocopoly.” Flickr: Creative Commons. Flickr, n.d. Web. 23 Aug 2014. <https://flic.kr/p/ntMfWZ>.