The rise of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) is said prefiguring the future of leaning. Accessible by all, wherever people are, they are the response to today’s need and most of all meet the idea of a free and equal access to knowledge and education for anyone. So, logically, everybody’s looking into this direction. Universities for their programs, businesses for their LMSs (learning management systems).
But is it really the expected revolution ? Do MOOCs actually meet educational challenges ? And if MOOCs are a new model, which kind of model is it about ?
MOOCS are a new distribution model
MOOCs are surely a new diffusion model, in some ways for businesses and as game changers for universities. First because of the digitization of the contents they imply second because they made content accessible remotely. What supposes that concerned organizations work in two directions. The first is, of course, to digitalized contents. The second is to pass a critical stage in terms of mindset and admit that the education delivered through a screen is a good as the one delivered in a classroom. But are we really sure of that ? Is the system immersive and interactive enough with teachers and other attendees ? This questioning is not specific to MOOCs but has rather to do with the quality of the contents and of the system.
So, as an online approach, MOOCs are quite a revolution.
Massive ? It would be so if all the contents where available online, what is far from being the case, lots of players (most of all universities) moving slowly and offering only a small part of their courses online.
Open ? Still not that open. Depending on the player (pure player, universities, learning departments), contents may be accessible to students or employees for free, sometimes for a fee. What leads to investigate their business models.
MOOCs are looking for business models
What is sure is that MOOCs won’t revolutionize business models in a near future. On this field the situation is rather experimental and even nebulous.
As for university platforms, MOOCs can be seen as a complement to the existing and included in the scholarship fees. But what’s about students who are not part of the standard programs ? There are two options : make them pay a specific fee or consider that since they won’t be able to get a grade, MOOCs only contribute to the university reputation can can be free. In this last case, the number of available courses is often limited and the whole thing is funded by students attending the regular program. We can guess that when students will be able to apply to a diploma, the model won’t be free anymore.
By the way it leads to an interesting questioning on what students are really paying for. The courses or the diploma ?
And what about pure players ? There’s still no generic model. Some have a quality offer that comes in a paying model. Some others are free what implies they find other ways of funding. There won’t be a lot of possible options : either they’ll have a quality offer that implies that students will become the product either they’ll rely on the good will of voluntary contributors.
So different economic models co-exist and no one can tall which of them will actually work. Between Harvard that can use MOOCs as a marketing tool they can fund and a niche player that will have to become profitable on his own, situations diverge. And in the end the question of profitability is not neutral regarding to the quality of the courses.
But as of today MOOCs are not a new business model.
MOOCs don’t need educational needs
Last thing to check : are MOOCs a new learning model ? If we want a MOOCs to be profitable we need to standardize the contents as much as possible. Does the massive distribution of standardized contents meet the current and futur educational challenges ? Not at all. What we need is specific contents and individualization. What does not seem compatible with a profitable MOOCs.
The future will be more about targeted contents and individualized experiences than massive distribution of standardized ones. Only the first option is likely to be qualitative enough to stimulate quality interactions on the content.
MOOCs as marketing labs
So are MOOCs a fad ? Not at all. First because they actually meet some needs. Not needs related to the reinvention of the learning models by a social imperative of making knowledge accessible by anyone. It’s not a way to improve the performance of the existing model but addresses social responsibility challenges.
Then because no one will invent tomorrow’s model without trying. MOOCs are an excellent platform to start, experiment and improve, alone or jointly with existing or future systems.
Last because if the learning market is expected to be fast-growing in a near future, players have to jump on it as soon as possible, even with a perfectible product and gather users. The economic model can wait. Even it means turning learners into products with free or freemium models.