Learning Opinion

MOOC Mania and the 99%

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Are these new Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) the silver bullet to improving higher-education? They certainly are getting plenty of hype. I can understand the fascination with MOOCs, as they are a romantic idea: millions of people in India learning calculus in their pajamas. But while MOOCs are a positive innovation, they are not the solution to making education more affordable or improving learning outcomes.

20 million students in the US and 100 million students worldwide are enrolled in a college or university this year. These students are paying an estimated $350 billion in tuition. They are enrolled to earn a degree, which is the key ticket to go out in the world and get a job. These students and this system are the main event. What are colleges and universities doing to use technology to better serve the 100 million tuition-paying, degree-seeking students?

The main event is students that are on campus and working toward a degree—this is where 99% of the tuition dollars are. So the key questions are: How to use technology to serve them. How to improve their learning?  How to enhance their on-campus experience?  How to provide their degree more cost-effectively? While MOOCs are a great innovation, the unintended consequence is to shift the debate and the resources away from what really matters: improving higher-education for the 99%.

Every major segment of the economy has had to innovate and evolve, and history proves that those organizations that adapt and thrive successfully harness new technologies to do things better and cheaper. MOOCs are serving a great purpose by sparking innovation and breaking the century-old mold on what a classroom can be. But how does giving away free content to those not enrolled help either the institution or those students enrolled at the institution?

There are cost-effective technologies readily available today that can improve learning, enhance the on-campus experience, and enable teaching efficiencies. For example, classroom technologies like those from Echo360 (disclosure: my firm Revolution Growth is an investor) are proven to help colleges and universities achieve all three of these goals.  Echo360 is a TIVO-like system that allows universities to record, host, stream, and manage all its classroom lectures and content. Students can re-watch lectures anytime, anywhere, from any device. Teachers can get real-time feedback on concepts that students are struggling with and augment the materials. Administrators can free up resources by having the basic classes successfully taught to larger groups of students.

The core business model of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the US (and 10,000 world-wide) is charging tuition to earn a degree, and cultivating those with a degree to generously support their alma mater. Those colleges and universities that channel their innovation and focus their technology resources on making education cheaper and better for this 99% will win.

Donn Davis co-leads Revolution Growth, which invests in and helps build innovative and impactful companies, including Echo360, Exclusive Resorts, and Everyday Health.

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  • Deke Kassabian

    MOOCs and traditional in-person higher education need not be separate topics, with one taking attention from the other. MOOCs as a way for students to “test out” of some entry level classes, or as a content element used by all within a class (i.e., the “flipped classroom”), are a perfectly reasonable use of them. If they help to reduce the time to completion for some students who today take 5 or 6 years, or if they help some who don’t complete to close the gap and complete, they become a useful tool in the “main event.”

    • I completely agree Deke. I think MOOC’s add to an existing Hybrid model already growing, taking courses in class and online. This is just another tool in the tool shed. Cost is a huge issue for students. As you said, if they can take a few courses like this and reduce the time to complete and reduce debt it could be a great thing. I see many Universities worried this will cannibalize their business, that is shortsighted. Embrace the change, create solutions leveraging these MOOC’s and own the conversation at your own school.

  • The idea of echo360 sounds good but it is difficult for every teacher to record their own videos and upload to the platform. Why not leverage existing platforms and videos to go with flipped learning? Most of those are actually free.