A couple of months ago, also in the Hindustan Times, I had pointed out one drawback of MOOCs — alongside the inherent challenges, these tests ultimately offer little more than “old wine in new bottles.” Yet, this is likely to change as the format continues to develop.
MOOCs are expected to have a substantial impact on the shape of higher education, which universities and schools should take note of now, before it is too late.
For starters, MOOCs will produce star professors — those charismatic, communicative, entertaining enough to capture a wide audience and keep them glued to their screens. Stars have always existed among faculty members — eg, bestselling authors of textbooks such as Kotler’s Marketing Management — and MOOCs will provide such stars an unprecedented opportunity to establish a social presence.
Given their success, MOOCs featuring these stars are likely to be widely adopted by traditional higher education institutions, with supplementary professors (perhaps with less “star power”) serving more as tutors and coaches, whose purpose is to put the stars’ lectures into perspective and context.
As a result, time in class will be used differently. Students will be asked to watch videos before attending class and then will use their time to work in groups, discuss video content with the professor or solve exercises. This is not a completely new concept — for example, numerous professors consistently try to make their students read the textbook before coming to class, with more or less success.
However, more interactive and engaging video material will most likely be more efficient and convincing than a simple textbook. Correspondingly, professors will need to provide considerable value add in order to justify having a real-life class in addition to the MOOC.
Traditional universities and schools might also become more specialised and niche-focused. Claims that in coming years only a few MOOC providers will survive should be taken with a pinch of salt, since it is unlikely that a single provider can specialise in all subjects.
To a certain extent, such specialisation already characterises traditional higher education institutions: Law students strive for Harvard, future investment bankers dream of Wharton, and managers who specialise in cross-cultural management might shoot for ESCP Europe.
MOOC providers might also distinguish themselves by offering different languages with different regional teaching and learning approaches. Branding is also likely to encourage the emergence and survival of multiple MOOC providers: At some point, if and when MOOCs begin to influence the job market, employers will want to be able to filter candidates according to their participation in specific MOOCs (eg, prestigious MOOCs of top universities).
Correspondingly, MOOC providers will need to offer courses adapted for students with high potential, and these courses are likely be more complex than those an average student could follow. This creates a need for further variety among MOOC providers.
MOOCs: the way forward
MOOCs featuring ‘star professors’ are likely be widely adopted by traditional higher education institutions, with supplementary professors
As a result, time in class will be used differently. Students will be asked to watch videos before attending class and then will use their time to work in groups, discuss video content with the professor or solve ­exercises
More interactive and engaging video material will be more efficient and more convincing than a simple textbook
Professors will need to provide sufficient added value in order to justify having a real-life class in addition to the MOOC
The author is dean for academic affairs, ESCP Europe Business School