MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, have recently become a widely publicized, actively discussed, topic of interest in higher education. The term MOOC is a “neologism,” i.e., a new word or new use of an old word. While MOOC is actually still quite a general and diverse pedagogical format used to organize learning, teaching or training experiences in a collaborative way, the word MOOC is now regularly used in the media as a metaphor for a number of large scale approaches. The word MOOC seems to have passed into the language as a neologism.
Most MOOCs do not presently lead to a widely recognized credential or award of credit. In addition, many of those experimenting with MOOCs have not yet figured out how to monetize or credentialize their programs. Despite the present financial and credit obstacles, there is increasing optimism about the positive effects of MOOCs in future education. Entrepreneurs are now figuring out ways to make MOOCs pay. Inside Higher Education news reports that more than 1.5 million people have registered for MOOCs through Coursera, Udacity edX and others, offered by large universities including Stanford, MIT and Harvard Universities, each claiming that the demand for their novel online offerings is undeniable (Inside Higher Education, June 11, 2012).
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, for example, have together committed $60 million to edX. Coursera has reported an award of $16 million in venture funding. Udacity is said to have finalized an undisclosed investment from Charles River Ventures and the Stanford MOOC continues to get publicity and support. In short, these universities have cash and rumors are that plans to establish partnerships with credit aggregators who will convert MOOC courses into academic credit will soon be announced. This strategy will solve or at least address some of the credit issues related to degrees and certificates, thereby identifying revenue streams and credibility vehicles. In addition, plans are in the works at a number of other reputable regionally accredited institutions who are working to harness currently available technologies to develop, control and offer different types of programs and courses to large numbers of participants. Building the credit bridge will boost interest in the MOOC.
During the mid 1990’s at Jones Education Networks, we developed the precursor of the MOOC while I was president of Mind Extension University (MEU), a cable and satellite network owned and chaired by cable legend Glenn Jones. In the ‘90s we got flack about the MEU name because it was seen as too avant-garde. Today, the name Mind Extension University would not be considered “far out” and might even be thought of as conservative. At MEU we were criticized for “MOOC-ing” a history course offered by then Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. Offering this history program as a course to thousands created a firestorm of controversy and I had to affirm our first amendment rights and Glenn Jones was called to testify before Congress.
It was a political tempest in a teapot, but it was a widely offered quite successful MOOC type program, among the other similar programs offered through Mind Extension University. Interestingly, MEU eventually became Knowledge TV, was acquired to become the Discovery Health Network and is now OWN, with Oprah Winfrey as CEO. I mention this because the migration of this type of program is significant and takes time to evolve.
At MEU, we also set up an education center offering and making partnerships with colleges and universities to provide backroom services including marketing, fees management, production services, record keeping and distribution for those that wanted to partner with us. Some of the distinguished MEU partners offering programs, seminars and courses, included George Washington University, The University of Delaware, Regis University, Seattle Community Colleges, California State University at Domguize Hills, and many more. The MEU offerings were diverse, awarding certificates, degree credit for courses, personal development programs, aggregated credit records and more. MEU was a precursor MOOC without portfolio and it also lead to the establishment of Jones International University, the first fully online regionally accredited university.
My reason for sharing this perspective and bit of history is show the diverse number of initiatives that emerged and to give context in support of the idea of the MOOC as a basis for answering frequently asked questions about the nature of MOOCs: Frequently asked questions are:
1. What is a MOOC course worth, both in terms of credit and money?
MOOC is a metaphor. MOOCs now come in many shapes and sizes from short seminars to complete course offerings. I think that there will be partnerships developed between those offering the MOOC and a growing number of credit aggregators, including those who enable credit to be earned based on assessment and prior learning evaluations.
Examples of well known, regionally accredited, credit aggregators include the Western Governors’ University, Excelsior College, Charter Oaks State College, Thomas Edison University and others who are in the business of evaluating records and granting credit for experience, collecting and evaluating transcripts and offering courses and programs that award credit and degrees. The University of Washington has recently joined the discussion about ways to credentialize courses and grant credit. Since each of those that I have mentioned have regional accreditation, their awards of credit are significant for degree legitimacy and also to establish eligibility for various types of financial aid. In addition, as variations of the MOOC evolve, new credit aggregation organizations and methods will emerge and as they become players in this new education arena.
New revenue streams will emerge. They will include revenue sharing, new fees for services, transcripts, certificates, degree strategies, ways to get and use student financial aid, equity arrangements in emerging new products, and investment and venture funds that will build programs, pay for patents and other assets that are developed. New financial models will emerge.
2. Who owns what?
The present examples I have given have been offered by large, highly funded universities who can afford to experiment. These institutions also know that the positioning and visibility that accompany these types of experiments in innovation are useful. In addition, there will be many creative spin- offs in terms of software applications, service providers and credit-givers, all of whom will own their work and stimulate old and new revenue streams. This is the same business strategy employed throughout the consumer electronics industry in supporting unique projects to acquire copyrights, patents and other assets generated through the experimentation. Much of the revenue generated from the MOOC phenomena will not be visible to lay observers, but it will be there for those who know how to capitalize on it.
3. How do MOOCs fit into the changing shape of higher education?
Being a metaphor, there will be a hundred variations. Many will fail. Some will succeed. The MOOC is a phenomenon of the new enhanced media and technology revolution emerging worldwide as a result of cloud computing and the expanding wired and wireless media-centric internet.
4. What is the future of the MOOC?
The future of the MOOC is significant. It will become a global phenomenon. New companies will be formed and new variations will emerge. The MOOC will remain very controversial as it changes and evolves. Mind Extension University was a great name for our cable network throughout the 1990’s. It is important to understand that the present neologism, MOOC as we now know it, may have a short recent history but its progeny will have a long future as the MOOC continues its transformation as a new vehicle for lifelong learning for all.
The MOOC is only one of the variations that will be part of the future of higher education. The traditional programs will also evolve and will remain successful and respected. However, as the nature of change itself changes, the acceptance and successful future variations will continue to surprise us.
Bernard Luskin is CEO of www.LuskinInternational.com, a media and education solutions consulting company. Dr. Luskin has been CEO of four universities and colleges, including Orange Coast College, founding president of Coastline Community College, founding chancellor of Jones International University, and founding CEO of Touro University Worldwide. Dr. Luskin launched the first Ph.D and Ed.D programs in media psychology and media studies at Fielding Graduate University and programs in other universities. He has received lifetime achievement awards in media and education from the UCLA Doctoral Alumni Association, University of Florida, Irish Government, European Union and American Psychological Association Media Psychology Division. He has been elected 2014 president of the Society of Media Psychology and Technology, the Media Psychology Division (46) of APA. Contact: BernieLuskin@gmail.com.
Footnotes: *Steve Kolowich, Inside Higher Ed., “How Will MOOC’s Make Money,” June 11, 2012, and “Without Credit,” June, 18, 2012.