MOOCs and Higher Education: What is next?

I gave a presentation on “MOOCs and Higher Education” at the SCONUL annual conference in Dublin last week. In the presentation, I examined the potential of MOOCs as a disruptive innovation and an emerging technology in higher education, and explored the concept, business model and trends of the MOOC phenomenon. The full presentation is available at here.

The Gartner Hype Cycle has been widely used to illustrate the processes of maturity, adoption and applications of emerging technologies in society. A question I posed in my presentation was, will MOOCs fall into this pattern of technology adoption?


If we take the Artificial Intelligence course at Stanford in 2011 as the starting point for the hype cycle, then 2012 was, ‘The Year of the MOOC’! This was manifested by the rapid spread of media coverage and the elite institutions forming partnerships to launch online courses shown as the upward trend of the graph moving toward the “peak of inflated expectations.” In 2013, less optimistic news and research findings have been appearing, e.g. the recent announcement from Coursera, which deflated expectations of MOOCs shown as the downward trend of the graph line.

Some questions:

  • Are MOOCs beginning the short journey into the ‘trough of disillusionment’?
  • Is the time approaching for MOOCs providers and universities to figure out what works and what doesn’t work?
  • Sometime in the future, if and when MOOCs enter the ‘slope of enlightenment and plateau of productivities’, will they then have a real impact on the delivery of higher education?

The answers to these questions remain to be found in the future!

Disruptive innovation and Open Education in HE

In my presentation at the recent CAL conference on disruptive innovation and Open Education in institutions I looked at the implications of OERs and Open Education initiatives in HE provision by applying Clayton Christensen’s disruptive innovation framework. Clayton Christensen offers two types of innovations that affect how we improve business and organisations: sustaining and disruptive. According to Christensen, a sustaining innovation is about improving the existing system while a disruptive innovation, on the other hand, creates an entirely new market, typically by lowering price or designing for a different set of consumers or different needs of existing customers. The theory of disruptive innovation helps explain how complicated, expensive products and services are eventually converted into simpler, affordable ones.

HE institutions are currently facing the challenges of funding cuts and rising tuition fees; on the other hand, the rapid development of OERs and Open Education initiatives provides opportunities for institutions to explore new business, financial and revenue models for free or lower cost and flexible HE provision to meet different needs of learners. As with many other technology related initiatives in education, it is clear that most institutional OER programmes focus on sustaining their current business and practice. Inevitably, the existing culture and organisational structure poses huge barriers to innovative models for the use of OERs and provision of Open Education. By contrast, many disruptive innovations around open courses, which offer different models and approaches to make education more accessible and free for all, have grown rapidly outside institutions. Examples of this type of innovation, such as DIY U, P2P U, OER U etc., can be seen as a complement or threat to traditional universities.

Disruptive innovation theories offer possible business solutions and organisational strategies to respond to open educational service provisions, such as by setting up new units with different resources, processes, and priorities to explore new educational approaches and services. Institutions can launch new market disruption to target those who are not being able to go to universities, or either launch up-market sustaining innovations by reducing the cost and providing better learning experiences without extra cost or low end market disruption to target those who look for simple and straight forward courses rather than complicated university degrees. The challenge for institutions is how to implement both sustaining and disruptive innovation in order to improve the existing teaching and learning practice as well as move away from highly formalised, standardised and expensive HE provision towards an individualised, cheaper, flexible and effective education economy.

The slides of this presentation are available at the Slideshare.