While the concept of free-of-charge, university online courses for large numbers of learners is not a new one, recently established Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have received keen attention from the higher education community and the media.
Companies in the US have started offering free-of-charge online education courses. Developed in collaboration with renowned universities and individual scholars, in a short period of time some of these courses attracted tens of thousands of learners around the globe. Coursera, one of the companies, claims to have more than two million registered learners.
The fact that these initiatives emerged rather suddenly, and that some did not seem to have a clear business model — they usually do not charge fees — certainly added to speculation regarding the intentions behind MOOCs and the long–term consequences for the higher education sector. For some, the MOOCs stand for a “learning revolution”, providing high quality education at low costs and unprecedented prospects for enhancing global access and participation. Meanwhile, critical voices have lamented that many of the recent MOOCs are not truly innovative, but have rather traditional learning approaches and goals, and some see them as an attempt to rationalise and further commercialise higher education.
EUA Council (national university associations from across Europe) at its recent meeting in Istanbul held a discussion on MOOCs and their potential impact, but also the prospects that they could offer to European higher education. Discussions were based on a paper, authored by Michael Gaebel (EUA Head of Unit – Higher Education Policy) which has now been published online.
There was a general consensus that the MOOCs should be closely monitored, but also that beyond the present excitement, it would be important to analyse innovative learning provision trends, and also consider implications for institutional recognition practice and definition of degrees. In order to do so, an EUA task force will be established to look at these issues.
Meanwhile, a recent questionnaire sent to EUA members, to which nearly 200 member universities responded, also included several questions on the issues of MOOCs. It highlighted that while approximately two thirds of the respondents had heard about MOOCs, only one third could confirm that they had already been an issue of discussion in their institution.
The question of whether MOOCs should be further developed in Europe was answered positively by almost half of the respondents, and while only less than 10% answered negatively, a relatively large group had no clear opinion on the issue. This seems also to confirm the need for further information on this issue, which has been clearly stated by 85% of respondents.
The questions on MOOCs were part of a recent questionnaire focusing on internationalisation of HE, and in particular on members’ expectations towards the forthcoming EU internationalisation strategy for higher education. The survey results are currently being analysed and will feed into the discussion with European Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou at the upcoming EUA Annual Conference in Ghent from 11 to 12 April.
The paper on MOOCs by Michael Gaebel can be downloaded here.