It’s official. The hot buzz word in higher ed this year is MOOC. This stands for Massive Online Open Course. It’s a new type of online class where you have thousands of people in each class and they take it for free (or very low cost). Up till now, you usually didn’t get any kind of certification from it either so it’s been more of casual learning. After about a year of MOOCs, I think I can start to see how it will change the education system. Let me lay out a few starting conditions.
- It’s clear that most universities have decided they can’t just ignore this new medium. Many schools are now starting up online programs or joining online providers such as Coursera. The barriers to entry have dropped dramatically. What this tells me is we are going to see a flood of online courses in the next few years.
- According to my theory of Disaggregation, we should start seeing a fracturing of the monolithic type of school where they provide everything. For example, here’s a story where 10 universities are going to jointly offer online classes for credit. It’s not quite a MOOC because they do break up into smaller groups, but the influence is clear. This is significant because it disaggregates the learning from the school itself which is an important psychological bridge to cross. Pooling resources will allow schools to share costs.
- Furthermore, once you disassociate learning with a physical location, it can happen anywhere and be hosted anywhere. Once you throw in realtime language translation, you will see classes offered from overseas because labor costs are much less than in the US.
The end result of an educational system with MOOCs in it is an abundance of learning opportunities. So what happens then? Here’s where I think things are going.
- The profit margin for online learning is higher than for on campus courses so there will be more of them. I many universities in 5 years time will have more online students than campus student.
- At first, the majority of these online students will be non traditional college student. When the price and risk is very low, it lets more people try out classes. This is a good thing.
- There will be a few large private providers as the mechanism of delivery. It doesn’t make sense for schools to make their own software to do this because of economies of scale. More users means shared costs. This will let schools focus on the content and use other private companies to package it into learning modules.
- The biggest assets remaining for large universities will be the network of contacts you can make there and their brand. There are still many companies who won’t hire unless you have an Ivy League degree. That will continue for a long time I’m afraid.
- With such an abundance of courses available, I think more and more people will start creating their own courses of study. The concept of a degree will gradually go away, replaced by a network of reputation and certifications.
- The most dramatic change in the world of education will be in the third world. Education will truly be global and I think the changes in the developing world will be transformative. This is also a very good thing.