MOOCs – a revolution in education or just an instrument for promotion? (Part 2)

Written by Ljupcho Gjavochanov



From the information presented in the first part, it can be inferred that the current MOOCs business model is facing serious issues of quality, pedagogy, sustainability, awarding of credit, and low completion rates (Jona & Naidu, 2014). 

Universities need to change this status quo situation by designing a product that can bring some quality assurance and in the same time to offer the totality and complexity of the university degree (Funell, 2013). The answer lies in a more blended model, which will combine the traditional and online education, and will bring a meaningful user experience. 


MOOCS 2.0 - Adapting for the class of the 21st century 


With the appearance of MOOCs 1.0, big numbers with big hopes were created, but produced disappointing first results (Agrawal, 2014). The problem was that universities and other players in this segment placed the accent on mass marketing rather than building relationship strategies. According to Barwise et al. (2010), for building a successful brand, focus must be customer-centric rather than product-centric. It is all about communicating a clear customer promise, continually improving that promise, building trust and innovating beyond the familiar. By using technology and media, companies should gain customer insight instead of just selling, protect the brand reputation while following the rules of customer engagement online.   

Anant Agrawal, a professor at MIT and president of EdX (joint venture MOOC platform of Harvard and MIT University) will describe the emergence of MOOCs 2.0 as a product offering a combination of innovative features for the future of online learning: online videos, interactive virtual laboratories, gamification (Lego-concept exercises) , online grading, peer interaction and discussion boards. 

In addition, the promise of the new MOOC product will be to provide ideal learning experience for the 21st century student in the form of a blended model, combining online education with face-to-face student faculty interactions. In order for the new model to be widely accepted, the key is in understanding the characteristics of the “millennium generation”, which is completely comfortable with using the online technology. According to Agrawal (2014), the new generation of students is more creative outside the classroom, listening to lectures and doing exercises in their own comfort zone. The classroom session should be used mainly for in-person interaction, having more time to discuss and solve problems together with the teacher. That is the promise that the new MOOC model has to maintain.

Although this blended model sheds some light towards the future of education, introducing some important features (active learning, self-spacing, instant feedback, gamification), there are many doubts whether universities are actually capable to put this in practice and integrate into their business model (Daniel et al, 2015).  

In the meantime, Harvard Business School is one of the players in the educational sphere that started to look things from a different perspective, using its brand reputation and competence as a possible game-changer and leader in the future of online education. 

Case examples from prestigious universities

According to Clayton Christensen (2014), Professor of Disruptive Innovation from Harvard University, Harvard Business School (HBS) finally has the technological core (defined as competitive set of technologies) to disrupt the education industry, after spending years of investing millions of dollars in online learning. What differentiates HBS from other universities is the ability to re-define and integrate the MOOC model into their existing business model, something which other competitors failed to do. This unique platform has a potential to set the standards that have to be followed by other universities if they want to have the same level of teaching quality. 

The online platform was named Harvard Business X (HBX) CORe, launched in June 2014, which resulted in 85% completion rate for the first offered course (HBX, n.d.). The HBX platform imitates the environment of the real Harvard lecture room and enables students to interact with each other. Unlike most of the MOOCs offered, HBX charges a fee of around $1500 dollars and limits the amount of users from 500 to 1000 per nine week study period (HBX, n.d.). After the completion of the course, the student receives a certificate, which according to HBX, it is as difficult as obtaining the actual diploma. What makes this online platform special is that it is sustainable, carefully designed to preserve the exclusivity of the Harvard brand, but in the same time to extend the education opportunities to a wider public, and to bring a meaningful user experience:


“CORe comes to you straight from Harvard Business School faculty. It's not outsourced. We have created the content, we are delivering the teaching, and we have designed the platform. This is us, our thinking, our philosophy of learning, our approach to business education, digitally reimagined for those of you just getting started in the world of business. Welcome to fluency.” (HBX, n.d.)





From the HBX example it becomes obvious that MOOCs have probably outlived its usefulness. It is time for a new trend, announced as the “post-MOOC” era, which is in the form of small private online courses (SPOCs) with fixed enrolments, intended for students who are really interested in completing the course and willing to pay the tuition (Daniel et al, 2015). Although this project is still in its experimental phase, it can be concluded that HBS is on the right track to be the leader in online education, having in mind the success with the invention of the case method, which became a benchmark for quality teaching followed by almost every university in the world.

Echoing Harvard University, in autumn 2014, Lund University gave a green light for entering the MOOCs segment, offering three courses, starting from January 2015 (LUMOOCS, 2015). Having in mind that Lund University is constantly ranked among the most prestigious universities in the world, this topic is of a particular interest for the university’s reputation. 

Despite the fact that following the MOOC trend is important, Lund University representatives state that small and cautious steps are taken in order to secure courses quality, take many issues into consideration, and avoid being associated with the current MOOC hype, which can result with negative consequences toward the university brand (Lund University Magazine, 2014). Nevertheless, expectations are high:

“MOOCs are a symptom of major changes in the education market, driven by technological advances and globalization. Young people are living their lives on the internet; they develop new study habits, googling tutorials, combining books with e-books… We need to take this opportunity to learn something new by investing in both MOOCs and e-learning” (Lund University Magazine, 2014).

The MOOCs Marketing Mix


Before reaching the conclusion, a summary of all major points is presented, to provide a clear picture of the MOOCs in general, in the form of the following marketing mix which can be applied by universities (picture 6)



MOOCs beyond tomorrow – limitations and further implications





Even though there is a clear example of some progress in the MOOC segment, the process is still in the experimental stage which imposes limitations to predict the impact of MOOCs to the future of education and online learning. If we can use the current completion rates as a benchmark for answering the research question, we can conclude that MOOCs offer nothing “revolutionary” and are used mainly for promotion by universities. However, this conclusion may change if some of those experimental projects turn to be very successful in the future, causing employers to start recognizing MOOCs’ certificates as a proof of competences. Then we are going to see a major shift in the student behavior from “just browsing” to a “serious intention for completing the course” (Clark, 2014).

Whatever the outcome may be in couple of years’ time, one thing must be seriously considered: MOOCs can be used as a qualification for admission or a supplement to a degree program, but must never become a replacement for the traditional education. Despite the opportunities that are offered by the Internet and the use of modern technology, student-teacher face-to-face interaction is the only way to provide motivation to learn, and makes the difference between success and failure (CareerFoundry Blog, 2014). Without that personal touch, education will be nothing more than “an icebound, petrified, cast-iron university” (Daniel et al, 2015).                                 

What is your experience with MOOCs? Do you consider MOOCs to play a key role towards the future of education?  











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