How MOOCs Already Changed Higher Ed in 2012

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As we all know, cost is the major reason that students drop out of college, with the two highest cost factors being tuition and textbooks. In 2012, we have talked a lot of the potential of MOOCs to make higher education more open, more affordable and more responsive to employers’ needs than the traditional university structure.

While the various MOOC approaches still have to prove themselves as a viable alternative, they have already achieved one thing. This year, the higher education space was shaken up in a big way, part of which is thanks to the MOOC movement.

Undoubtedly, there are most open questions than answered ones at the moment. For example, what is going to be their business model? Will students get credit? Are MOOCs even going to be around in the next few years?

As Brian Whitmer, co-founder of Instructure Canvas puts it in our recent interview, we don’t know if MOOCs are the answer to change in higher education or if it’s going to be something completely different. I also agree with Udacity’s founder Sebastian Thrun, who says that most MOOCs present their content as video lectures on the Internet which is “very boring and uninspirational.”

But all these valuable points aside, the MOOC space forced the established players in higher education to move and innovate again. If we take the University of Phoenix as an example, it first established an online degree in 1989. We shouldn’t forget that online education itself is far from being a new thing. We have also heard that the big for-profits in higher education, like Apollo’s University of Phoenix or Kaplan, are struggling, which resulted into closing some campuses and focusing on their online business.

MOOCs cannot be seen as a replacement yet, as they’re still trying to figure how students might get credit for taking courses, and they’re even further from offering a degree (or something similar). So competition for the big for-profits arises elsewhere. Bloomberg published an interesting article on how more and more state schools and private universities are making the move online. In many cases, these are cheaper and better rated options than a traditional degree program.

The article features the comparison of Arizona State University (which charges students about $11,000/year) with the University of Phoenix (where students have to pay around $15,000/year). Western Governor’s University saw a jump of 40 percent in enrollment for their online program. An analyst at Deutsche Bank estimates that by the end of next year, around 80 percent of the population in the US will have access to cheaper online degrees from their state universities.

Lastly, we saw 2U announce Semester Online, an online consortium of some highly selective universities. Students will get credit in the online program just like on campus, and take classes over the Internet in small study groups. However, they will also have to pay the same price for the online courses as for the on-campus ones. Therefore, one could say that Semester Online is some kind of an anti-MOOC, trying an approach with smaller groups and higher prices. Some of the universities that take part in Semester Online also offer courses via MOOC platforms like Coursera.

With Coursera planning to get accredited MOOCs on the platform in 2013, the next year is already looking promising for higher education. It might even get as interesting as 2012.

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