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Did MOOCs Just Make Landfall? 10 Questions to Consider
November 5, 2012 - 3:00am

It seems we may have another big, unpredictable storm close to home – MOOCs.   They have been getting a lot of press this year, and here's another recent article from the New York Times - "The Year of the MOOC."

Last week Inside Higher Ed announced a partnership between Coursera and Antioch University to license Coursera courses for Antioch degree programs. 

In short, here’s the business model:  Universities such as Duke and the University of Pennsylvania work with Coursera to produce massively open online courses (“MOOCs”) that are offered for free (at least until this point) through Coursera.  Some schools, like Antioch, may decide to license these courses and will pay Coursera a fee to do so.  Coursera will share the gross revenue and net profit from these licensed courses with the universities that produced the content.  The faculty that produced the course will also receive some revenue.  Schools like Antioch will offer these licensed MOOCs to their students, thus giving them access to a wider array of courses and instructors, including “rock star” faculty from well-known universities.  Because the cost of licensing the content through Coursera will likely be smaller than the cost of hiring these well-known faculty to teach at the licensee school, universities like Antioch that work through Coursera can pass the savings on to students, thus lowering the cost of a degree. 

From the Antioch University website: “Each Coursera course will be facilitated by an AULA faculty member who will also be enrolled in the course, thereby enabling both frequent interaction between students and instructor and augmentation of the course through supplemental exercises and projects focused on expanding the learning experience.”

Like a storm, the higher education landscape is in a swirl and small pivots may produce large, important changes.  We wonder whether this might be an early pivot . . . and potentially change who is in the path of the storm and who is considered safe – for now, until the next pivot.  We’ve written about the dismantling of higher education,  potential business models for edX and content creators and distributors, how at least one student perceived his experience in the first MITx MOOC, and the multitude of factors impacting the higher education market right now, but this is something big – the market just pivoted. 

Rather than try to predict the exact path – and force – of this new development in higher ed, we have a few questions that we all might consider as this unfolds:

1.     Will licensing of MOOCs created by highly-respected schools “crowd out” faculty from the licensee schools?

2.     How might licensee schools feel about their new role as “facilitators”?

3.     Will licensing MOOCs increase access?  Might organizations licensing the content decide to focus on fee-paying schools and create two tiers of content – paid and free?

4.     If all schools have access to all of the same MOOCs, how will schools differentiate themselves in the marketplace to attract students?

5.     If different universities license the same course materials, but have different grading standards, how will we compare outcomes across universities?

6.     Might the difference between schools come from the quality of facilitation/support offered by licensee school faculty, rather than the MOOC faculty, since that will become widely available, and perhaps commoditized?

7.     If more schools use the license model, could we eventually end up with a handful of “top” schools producing the content and a small number of large schools offering the degrees? 

8.     Will Coursera-type companies become the publishers in the new higher education market?

9.     Who decides what content/teachers are “best”?  Will it become true that courses from Coursera partners will be viewed as “superior” to courses from other schools because they are frequently licensed?

10.   Will license deals like this drive a wedge into the higher education market, essentially enhancing the star power of the best-known universities and leaving the schools with less-developed brands weaker?

So, higher education meteorologists, what does your weather satellite read? 

 

 

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