The trials and tribulations of MOOCs

The rise of massively open online courses is one of the most visible trends in higher education but how will they shape the future of the industry?

The rise of massively open online courses (MOOCs) is one of the most visible trends in higher education today. MOOCs are being developed to make education more open and accessible at a considerably lower cost. However, significant questions and hurdles remain as to how MOOCs will shape the industry.

At the present rate of growth, the MOOC phenomenon will evolve over the medium term to serve less as a standalone initiative and more as a catalyst for broader change in the industry, including such elements as how courses are consumed, how education is financed, and how learning is accredited.

A new Ovum report, Next in the Evolution of Distance Learning: Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) examines how MOOCs are shaping the higher education industry. The report provides insight into the evolution of distance learning and the drivers and inhibitors for MOOC adoption. It also helps technology vendors evaluate the competitive landscape for MOOC providers and learning management system (LMS) vendors offering MOOCs.at

What the report highlights is that there are a myriad powerful market forces driving the MOOC phenomenon.

A number of drivers are influencing the creation and uptake of MOOCs. First, the convenience and growing acceptance of online education is creating a new trend in how students attend classes and earn their degrees. Second, the fiscal crisis facing higher education is forcing institutions to seek out new sources of revenue and driving students to look for more affordable forms of education. Finally, technology is giving students easier way to access MOOCs because students want to learn on-demand in formats that are portable. Therefore, on the horizon is a world where institutions deliver a well-integrated, multimedia MOOC all within a mobile device.

However, the models and monetisation of MOOCs remains unclear.

Despite the rapid growth and widespread visibility of MOOCs, there are clear inhibitors to their long-term sustainability that must be addressed. By declining to charge for content, instruction, and assessment, MOOC providers will have to find new ways to cover their overheads and deliver a return on investment or else they risk sustainability in the future. Course-credit issues and plagiarism fears under the current MOOC model will also serve as inhibitors to the long-term success of MOOCs, whose momentum may stall if they are not widely recognised as reputable qualifications. Students hoping that MOOCs will make them more employable will be disappointed if employers do not take MOOCs seriously. These inhibitors still carry considerable weight and must be addressed in order for MOOCs to be a success.

What MOOCs do is provide an expansion platform for existing vendors like Coursera, edX, and Udacity, which are building a name for themselves faster than previously anticipated. However, learning management system (LMS) vendors such as Blackboard and Instructure, lecture capture vendors such as Sonic Foundry, and online video platform providers such as Kaltura already have a strong market presence and reputation amongst institutions.

Therefore, by moving into the MOOC space, these vendors could generate more revenue, and institutions could save money by consolidating courses into an existing enterprise application.

Navneet Johal is an associate analyst for education technology at Ovum.