A MOOC Article a Day: Three Themes To Watch

There’s one phenomenon growing even faster than MOOCs: the news coverage around MOOCs. Buzz about MOOCs—Massive Open Online Courses—has generated some interesting practical and philosophical questions in higher education.

Will MOOCs reshape the higher education landscape in the second decade of the 21st century and beyond? Will they provide more value for institutions or translate to losses in tuition dollars? Will MOOCs mean more access to higher education for students around the world or will emerging for-profit models squeeze out the very students who could stand to benefit the most? How will MOOCs change the role of professors and what it means to be a student in an era of online education?  And finally, what impact— if any—will MOOCs have on traditional international student mobility: will students be just as motivated to cross borders as courses become more readily available online?

IIE’s Center for Academic Mobility Research is exploring the topic of online education and its potential impact on international education. Here are three key themes to watch and a roundup of some recent news coverage.

Monetizing MOOC’s

While MOOC enrollments have climbed exponentially in the past year, turning a profit from a model based on free access has proved challenging. MOOC providers are still figuring out exactly how to make money. Coursera, one of several MOOC giants, has announced that it will charge students who want to get certificates for course participation and has also introduced a profit-generating but contentious model of selling student contact information to prospective employers (with permission from course participants). Universities that are spearheading online education efforts (including Harvard and MIT) have allocated millions of dollars in support of MOOCs. What remains to be seen is whether MOOCs will eventually contribute to institutional bottom lines or become for-profit ventures


Accreditation will continue to be a hot topic as MOOCs expand and begin to carve out their niche in the higher education landscape. The American Council of Education (ACE) is currently assessing the credit-worthiness of different MOOC offerings. While ACE identifies recommendations on credit for MOOCs, MOOC providers are likely to continue to offer their own certificates for course participation. Partnerships between MOOCs and educational institutions such as the one announced by San Jose State University and Udacity on January 15, 2013, will also pave the way for MOOCs to offer academic credit for students, though it remains to be seen how this will be distinct from other online education models. Time will tell whether accreditation, institutional partnerships or certificate programs will make MOOCs an integral part of credential-driven higher education or a stand-alone education alternative with its own credentialing system. We might see MOOC diplomas or MOOC joint degrees in the years to come. Or we may simply find ourselves turning to MOOCs for our continuing education needs.

MOOCs and Pedagogy for the 21st Century

There’s no question that MOOCs have made institutions (re)consider the future of higher education, provoking debates about the intersection of education and technology. Do MOOCs have the potential to overcome access challenges associated with prohibitive education costs in the U.S. and institutional barriers in developing countries? Or is the profit motive likely to breed fierce competition among education provider institutions that will extinguish the free MOOC movement? And what will become of pedagogy in the 21st century: Will professors become celebrities, salesmen, or get sidelined?

What do you think? I invite you to join this discussion on MOOCs and share resources and articles of interest on this topic.