The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Will MOOCS Create Academic Internet Factories?

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are in the early stages and show plenty of potential. Tech firms such as Coursera are working closely with some of the largest and best-known colleges and universities in the nation, but what happens to the balance of those partnerships if the web courses start to bring in money?

That’s the question University of Virginia professor Mark Edmundson asked in his Inside Higher Education column.

“If the partnership with Coursera works out well, we may soon become dependent on their good will,” he wrote. “We may, in other words, need to take very seriously their thoughts about the kinds of courses we should teach and make available online. At Virginia, and at all the schools that begin teaching online, the distribution companies may come to have a consequential say in the way that professors teach and students learn.”

It could turn into a lot of money, considering the potential of MOOCs to reach hundreds of thousands of students for each class. If there’s money to be made, all the players involved, including colleges and universities that have seen their budgets trimmed drastically over the last 10 years, are going to want to make as much as possible. That could lead to a number of compromises in Edmondson’s estimation.

“There will, in other words, be a constant dialogue between professors and the corporation about what kind of content is going to be admissible,” he wrote. “There will be disagreements and there will be disputes. Some professors may walk away. But in the end, it is not hard to predict who will win the arguments, provided the online courses are capturing significant revenues.”

Edmondson points to big-time college sports, where schools have become “addicted” to the revenue generated by athletics. They could very well fall under the same spell when it comes to money earned through Internet education.

“In not too long we may be speaking of academic Internet factories,” he said. “This is especially distressing, now that some of our best universities have jumped aggressively into the distance learning game.”

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