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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Consequences of the MOOC Movement

As with almost everything, there are two sides to the massive open online course (MOOC) debate. Proponents see MOOCs as a revolution providing high-quality education to more people at less cost, while opponents are concerned about the quality since classroom instruction is lost.

Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sees a future where elite schools weather the disruption of MOOCs because they are well off financially while a larger group of colleges and universities won’t survive.

“My fear is that we’re plunging forward with these massively free online education resources and we’re not thinking much about the economics,” Cusumano said in an interview with The New York Times.

Cusumano sees similarities between the strategic mistakes of giving away content made by media companies between 1998 and 2006 with the giveaway pricing of education by MOOCs. He wrote in an article that appeared in the monthly magazine of the Association for Computing Machinery that free online education could become the norm if enough colleges and universities join the movement.

“Stanford, MIT, Harvard, et al. have already opened a kind of Pandora’s box, and there may be no easy way to go back and charge students even a moderately high tuition rate for open online courses,” he wrote. “Free learning via the Internet seems here to stay. It is probably most valuable in moderation and as a complement to traditional university education and degrees, not as a substitute. It also will probably force educational institutions to bring down the rising cost of education, as well as the rising prices of tuitions. This seems positive, but may lead to potentially negative effects and unintended consequences: Elite universities need to ensure the true costs of their MOOCs do not become too high for society as a whole by destroying the economic foundations of less-prominent educational institutions—or of themselves.”

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