EUA LogoBy Michael Gaebel. MOOCs Massive Open Online Courses - An update of EUA's first paper (January 2013). Download.
1. Introduction
With the rapid development of MOOCs, EUA published an occasional paper in January 2013 on MOOCs for discussion at the EUA Council, and for information for EUA membership. The present paper aims to provide an update on these developments, particularly as they concern European higher education.
The main issues described in this update are:
- International MOOCs facilitators: The largest concentration of MOOCs is still in the US. The three big providers, Coursera, edX and Udacity have been growing in size and have also developed distinct profiles.
- European reactions to MOOCs: Despite Europe’s mitigated reaction and less hype than in the US, there has been a sharp increase in MOOCs, to the extent that around one third of MOOCs around the world involve European higher education institutions. 1 This has happened through participation in the US platforms, as well as European initiatives launched by the universities themselves, but also by private start-ups, often with support from national governments, telecommunication companies and foundations.
- A European dimension: One issue is also whether and how MOOCs can develop a genuine European dimension. The current trend is that there are some platforms at national level in larger European countries, which may be profiled via language rather than belonging to the national higher education system: there will be separate English, French, German and Spanish platforms with a degree of openness to other languages. The European open universities have launched their own MOOCs portal. The European Commission has expressed its interest and support in exploring the potential of MOOCs in various ways, among others through studies, and provision of funding, and a new website launched along with its “Opening Up Education” Communication. A first European MOOCs stakeholder summit took place in June 2013 in Lausanne, with a follow-up summit scheduled for 10- 12/02/2014. The question remains whether and how MOOCs could complement the structures and instruments developed in the European Higher Education Area.
- Around the globe: MOOCs have also been developed in other parts of the world, and not surprisingly, basically everywhere where education structures are already well-developed. Many of the platforms in emerging countries provide access to courses from the US and from Europe.
- Business models: MOOCs companies are under pressure either to transfer costs to course participants or to generate income from other sources. Their ability to gather venture capital suggests that there is economic potential – but only time will show whether these MOOCs initiatives are successful or doomed to fail. Predictably their success will depend firstly on business strategies and markets, and only secondly on educational needs and quality.
- Learning and teaching: the impact on learning and teaching is still unclear, but it is quite obvious that MOOCs do not replace institutional higher education provision, but supplement it, e.g. if used in blended learning within universities, as individual lifelong learning opportunity (predominantly during or after higher education studies) or as a means to reach out to new target groups (e.g. through continued professional education). For some of these options, the question is whether and how “massive” they have to be, and what exactly distinguishes them from other forms of blended and online learning. First answers to these questions are courses provided for a fee, MOOCs with the additional options of student support and certificates or even credits. An interesting question is whether these services are provided solely by the higher education institution, or in collaboration with the MOOC platforms or other external service providers, a phenomenon which is increasingly referred to as “unbundling”. This may impact the general understanding, definition and award processes for academic degrees, and respectively strengthen alternative validation routes.
- MOOCs impact higher education institutions in different ways, depending on the type of institution, and its socio-economic and legal framework. As in other areas, such as internationalisation or regional cooperation, universities on both sides of the Atlantic find themselves in very different situations and respond differently to MOOCs. US institutions are under a much stronger economic pressure to respond, and reaction in the US ranges from determination to develop new education and business models to concern about the future of those institutions that cannot develop MOOCs, and about higher education in general. Many of the European universities seem to be more concerned about lagging behind international competition, and look at MOOCs as a global promotion opportunity. There is excitement among those staff members who have been working in e-learning and open education for many years. But there is also frustration that insight from and achievements of longstanding e- and distance learning practice are either ignored or presented as recent innovation. There is also some concern that MOOCs might not promote real learning innovation, and would be used simply to save costs rather than improve quality. But overall, the impression is that European universities look at technology-enhanced learning, including MOOCs, in a positive and forward-looking way.
I should like to thank all colleagues at EUA who provided comments and support to the paper, and also the members of the EUA Task Force for Innovative Learning and Teaching for their advice. Special thanks to Zhong Zhou, researcher at Tsinghua University, and Thérèse Zhang, now former colleague at EUA, for their support in gathering information about MOOCs in China. This is an update to the previous paper, published a year ago. Given the rapid developments, it is almost impossible to keep the paper up-to-date even in the process of writing, and any developments after 01/12/2013 were not taken into consideration. I have done my best to check and verify all facts, but MOOCs are fast-moving, and sources of information comprise news articles, blogs, but also observations and perceptions of a wider range of individuals active in the fields. I apologise in case that any important developments or initiatives have been omitted or not described accurately. We would welcome your support in notifying us of these and also your contribution to any future updates. Please send any information to: elearning@eua.be. More...