Reasons Universities Need MOOC

22nd January 2015

As a potentially disruptive technology, Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCS) have been the subject of much debate since their inception in 2012. Their potential for democratising learning and reshaping traditional training models continues to intrigue learning and development professionals and increasingly the higher education sector.

Already we are seeing shifts in the traditional paradigm, particularly in the US where universities such as Stanford, MIT and Harvard have led the way in adoption of the MOOC as a learning platform. To date, one third of higher education students in the US are taking at least one course online (a figure which, it is speculated, will exceed 50% within the next five years)[1].

But it’s not just the US higher education system investing in MOOCs. As of February 2014, there are 58 MOOCs offered by UK universities (29 on the Futurelearn platform, 21 on Coursera, and 8 built independently). Two of these (at Edge Hill and Oxford Brookes) offer credit towards traditional undergraduate programmes.

So why is it UK universities are increasing looking to the MOOC platform?

1) To Increase student acquisitions

The global scope of the MOOC has the unique advantage of reaching out to incredibly large audiences. By offering engaging and captivating MOOCs, these audiences, in turn can convert into attendees for undergraduate and postgraduate courses? This is particularly the case for MOOCs that offer credits counting towards enrolment requirements for university courses. A good example is Davidson College in North Carolina, who are piloting a course on EdX to offer high school students online lessons in AP calculus, physics and macroeconomics. The pilot allows teachers to use the material as a MOOC (unsupported) or as a blended course (mixed online content and physical classes).

2) To promote the university’ s brand and reputation

As more universities and colleges are developing their own MOOCs, it is increasingly a risk to an institution’s brand to not offer their students this platform. By developing free online courses, universities are seizing the opportunity to both widen participation and showcase the diversity of courses and expertise on topics, likely to engage a wider international audience (an example of this is the course about Ebola hosted by MOOC provider ALISON). This is both good for the university’s brand presence, as well as benefiting the academic staff members personal development plans in terms of fulfilling their widening participation remit.

3) To supplement and improve distance learning course completion rates

With many UK and international universities offering distance learning courses[2], it is a shared concern that distance learners often feel more isolated and therefore less engaged with the course. The unfortunate side effect of this is that more students will drop-out before the completion of their course than those attending the university on-site. In creating a sense of community and social learning via the use of social media tools such as continuous chat features, discussion forums and use of Facebook groups, MOOCs offer the potential to mitigate the dropout rates and increase participation. As discussed in our previous article about  ‘Social and collaborative learning’, a sense of cooperation and community are pivotal in ensuring learner engagement and course completion.

4) To supplement traditional teaching methods

The MOOC model can be used as a valuable weapon in the course leader’s arsenal. By utilising a MOOC as part of a blended approach to enhance traditional courses, learners can check their understanding of the course material, view additional related media and share and network with fellow students? The MOOC course can also be used as a useful refresher of the information for exam revision purposes.

For some, MOOCs offer the opportunity to completely revise the classroom model and use an online medium to deliver the content, leaving the classroom time to discuss and engage in group activities? The use of MOOCs to replace traditional lecture times with lecture videos offer a tempting approach to free up more of the professor’ s time as well as offer attendance tracking and additional media.

5) To increase revenue stream

Despite one of the MOOC’s most popular features being that it is free and accessible to all, there are ways that it can be used to monetise aligned activities. For instance:

  • By promoting the university’s expertise and brand awareness to new, fee paying students.
  • By inspiring learners who attended your MOOC, to further their knowledge and enrol in a fee paying course.
  • And thirdly, by offering a two tiered model, i.e. a freemium light-weight course and a more in-depth paid version.

By aligning traditional teaching methods alongside a MOOC platform, universities are able to offer students and lecturers flexibility, enhanced teaching materials and community. Used appropriately, the potential of the MOOC can deliver benefits to the student, the teacher and the institution.

For more information about how Marshall ACM can help your organisation deliver your own MOOC courses, please contact us today.


Author Tamar Elderton-Welch

[1] UK department of Education research report 2014: MOOCs: Opportunities for their use in compulsory age learning’.
[2]‘There are over’ 210005 distance learners in the UK in 2013/4 according to HESA report.
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