In the past year, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) has emerged to be a major trend in the education space, witnessed by the rapid takeoff of online universities such as Coursera, Udacity, and EdX.
Millions of online learners from all over the world are now studying science, engineering, and humanities subjects delivered by the world’s best professors, without having to pay expensive tuition or having to quit their full-time job. The adoption was so fast that many people started to predict that MOOCs would disrupt the higher education industry from bottom up, similar to what iTunes did to the music industry a few years ago.
(It’s not lost on us that Apple could disrupt the education industry as well with iTunesU with the right amount of focus.) Others are less optimistic and point out many inherent disadvantages of the MOOC model such as lack of real-world interactions and credibility challenges. The tension between these two conflicting views about MOOCs has contributed to the leadership drama in University of Virginia in June this year.
Before we assert “the end of traditional universities” or “universities are the next Sony”, we should acknowledge the fact that the MOOC model wouldn’t even have existed without the support from traditional universities. It was first prototyped by Stanford, and then many other prestigious universities embraced the model and rolled out their own MOOC programs (e.g. EdX is a collaborative effort by Harvard, MIT and Berkeley). Even for non-university-owned platforms like Coursera, all of its course contents are supplied by universities for free.
If the MOOC model were really such a disruptive threat, why would universities take the trouble to disrupt themselves? Why would the board members of University of Virginia be so obsessed with it, even going so far as attempting to fire their president?
Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI), a top-notch university in Germany specialized in IT systems engineering, recently announced its new MOOC platform named openHPI. Professor Hasso Plattner, founder of HPI and cofounder of SAP, is taking the stage and delivering HPI’s first online open course on “In-memory Data Management” starting September 3.
We had the opportunity to speak with Professor Dr. Christoph Meinel, CEO of HPI, to get his personal perspectives on this MOOC movement, and its impact on the future of education. Below are a few key take-aways after this insightful conversation with Professor Meinel.
- Extend: The MOOCs are “disruptive extensions” rather than threats to traditional universities. MOOCs will not replace the existing campus-based education model, but represent a huge opportunity to create a completely new, and much larger market, that universities couldn’t serve previously due to the physical limitations of the campus. This is quite different from the situation in music industry a few years ago. Traditional CD-based music distribution was already a volume business reaching out to the mass, and therefore when digital format, Internet and later iTunes emerged, these new alternatives eroded the same market that the traditional model served, by promising lower cost and more convenience. In comparison, there is not so much overlap between the existing market (qualified young students) and the new market (professionals, or people who cannot afford, or gain admittance to traditional universities).
- Capture Value: Different business models will emerge for MOOCs in the future. The unbundling of learning, credentials, social interaction, facility access, and assessment will make it possible for institutions to establish new business models. For example, an institution may provide online courses for free, but build a “headhunting” business model by recommending top-performing learners to employers; another institution may establish some local testing centers and offer fee based assessment services to those MOOC users who want to get a credential. Also, most MOOCs are free today, but in the future some premium content will be added for a fee (freemium). Even more creative pricing models can be explored. For example, the students may pay $10 to enroll in a course, but get a refund if they complete the course and pass the assessment.
- Continue: Professional education will become even more critical in the future, and MOOCs provide a great means. Knowledge and even some skills have a shorter shelf life these days. The traditional “K12 -> university -> career” linear education model needs to be transformed into a more iterative and on-demand model. MOOCs enable people to easily learn any new topics (e.g. in-memory computing) whenever needed, and to stay up to date during their entire career. OpenHPI targets the professional education market with sushi size 6 week course offerings (that take around 3 hours per week).
- Customize: MOOCs enable you to optimize the mix various educational offerings irrespective of location, time, age, and provider. For example, it makes more sense to combine a German language program (delivered by a teacher in Germany) and American history program (delivered by an expert in the USA).
- Be There: openHPI is planning to turn their virtual community into a real-world interaction experience. Learners will pair up locally in coffee shops or conference rooms, study the online courses together and have face-to-face discussions. We have seen successful examples of the hybrid “online + offline, remote + local” model in other industries (e.g. Yelp, Groupon, OpenTable, Amazon Mobile Shopping, and Alternative Reality Games, etc). The majority of human experience is taking place in the physical world, but can be supported, facilitated and augmented by online digital tools. In the education industry, we see many such experiments, such as SkillShare’s Hybrid Classes and Stanford D-school’s “Virtual Crash” course for Design Thinking.
You can read the interview with Professor Christoph Meinel of openHPI here.
This article was written as part of The Future of Education research initiative.