There must have been a press release by Coursera recently to fuel the many articles today about their new partnership with Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to join their charter partner Stanford. This is all about elite universities embracing massively open online courses, or MOOCs. I think this signals a major move of the changing strategy of higher education. And I think this is significant enough that all universities need to take notice and evaluate how this might affect their course delivery strategy and the future of higher education.
MIT, Harvard and Stanford have shaken things up by driving these MOOCs and in some courses offering a certificate of completion for those who have successfully participated. This is not a credential that has any official meaning, however, why doesn’t it. It can now be argued that one could present their successful completion of a series of courses from these prestigious institutions as validation that learning took place and should now offer a certain level of qualification similar to a college degree. That is extremely scary to higher education, but why not to these universities that have pioneered this MOOC strategy?
It appears from the articles that faculty at these institutions are highly motivated to participate in offering these courses that are open to students outside of their traditional classes. Maybe they are inspired by how Stanford engineering professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng parleyed their efforts into the startup company Coursera funded by $16M of VC money. But why are these universities so supportive? Are they jumping into this just because they can? I don’t think so, I think they understand the transition that higher education is going through and they plan on be at the front end of it. They see that that an online component for a course brings the value of the community. And they have decided to perfect this online component to ensure their leadership in leveraging these communities. Not to grow their online revenue, although that may very well be an outcome, but instead this partnership with Coursera allows them to effectively bring the world to their classrooms. If the paying students who benefit from advantages of F2F also have an opportunity to collaborate with an unlimited number of students from the world, then they win. These institutions will move beyond just “Elite” they become “Unique”.