Trends and Futures

Espresso Course on MOOCs – Day 3


Image source: Unsplash, Pixabay retrieved 2/12/2016

What is all the fuss about MOOCs?

There is no doubt that MOOCs are controversial and have both many pros and cons. MOOC’s are being touted as a ” disruptive innovation” to higher education,  challenging the current and traditional models of higher education (Flynn, 2013). This challenge comes on several fronts which includes the provision of education that is freely available, scalable to facilitate massive enrolments, and views learning as a community process. cMOOCs are based around the theory of ‘connectivism’, a term coined by Siemens in 2005 that’ describes learning as a process of network formation, with connections being key to networked learning, while Downes (2009) asserts that knowledge consists of the network of connections formed from experience and interactions with a knowing community ‘ (Kellogg, Booth, Oliver, 2014, p.265). Connectivist courses (or cMOOCs) allow the learners to generate and create content together (Siemens, 2011).

There is a lot of debate around whether MOOCs will enhance or hinder universities with many academics fearing MOOCs and the impact they will have on such things as their intellectual property or even their futures within Universities.

Advantages and Disadvantages of MOOCs

Bilington and Fronmueller (2013) outline some of these scenarios as well as some of the advantages and disadvantages of MOOCs.

Massive numbers of enrolments

It is a positive factor that huge numbers are being exposed to a topic, and given a taster of the content for a university course. Disadvantages include difficulty in managing, assessing, facilitating interaction and supporting such huge numbers for those running the MOOCs, which often results in large numbers of participants disengaging, dropping out and not completing courses. So while tens of thousands of students may sign up for a MOOC, often less than 7% of them complete it.

It’s free and open to anyone, anywhere!

“The development of MOOCs is rooted within the ideals of openness in education, that knowledge should be shared freely, and the desire to learn should be met without demographic, economic and geographical constraints” (Yuan and Powell,2013, p.6). This ‘opening up of education ‘ through the use of technology  provides new opportunities for those who were previously unable to access education, giving those who  are disadvantaged, either by geography, social or financial circumstances, the opportunity to learn and engage in education.

The disadvantages to this: despite this ‘global approach’ to education the majority of courses come from an English language basis which may limit how accessible they are anyway.

Participants are usually white, from English-language countries, already educated ‘nevertheless, a survey completed in 2015 shows that those with low socioeconomic status from non-OECD countries and those without a college education are more likely to report benefits.  The overwhelming majority of people who completed MOOCs report career or educational benefits, and a substantial number report tangible benefits such  as getting a new job, starting a business, or completing prerequisites for an academic program’ (Zhengao, 2015).

The following chart illustrates some of the pros and cons of MOOCs:

MOOCs began emerging in 2008 with the first labeled course offer

Image source:


What does the future hold?

Sebastian Thrun made the bold statement that “job applicants will tout their Udacity degrees. In 50 years there will only be ten institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot at being one of them” (Krause, 2014,p.83). Things have not exactly panned out this way for Udacity but higher education institutions are exploring how they can use MOOCs platforms to run and deliver credited courses. The recent development of ‘Micro-Masters’ courses that are now being offered is an example of that.The number of institutions running MOOCs and the number and variety of MOOCs available is constantly growing and expanding.  The question of MOOC survival and growth remains to be seen and how they will evolve into the future and contribute to the online education arena.

 Further Resources

A few questions you can respond to

Use the forum to post your thoughts to some of the following questions.

  • What are some of the advantages and disadvantages do you see in MOOCs ?
  • Do you think MOOCs are a disruptive technology? In what ways?
  • What might be the long term impacts or future of MOOCs?
  • Do you think MOOCs will have a place in Higher education?


Billington, P. J., & Fronmueller, M. P. (2013). MOOCs and the future of higher education. Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice, 13(3), 36-43. Retrieved from

Flynn, J. T. (2013). MOOCS: DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION AND THE FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION. Christian Education Journal, 10(1), 149-162. Retrieved from

Kellogg, S., Booth, S., & Oliver, K. (2014). A social network perspective on peer supported learning in MOOCs for educators. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 15(5),263-289.Retrieved from

Krause, S. D. (2014). Invasion of the MOOCs: The promises and perils of massive open online courses Parlor Press.

14 thoughts on “Espresso Course on MOOCs – Day 3

  1. Ideally, the long term impact could be a democratisation of education and a more informed and knowledgeable populous. Given that this isn’t in the interests of the ‘powers that be’, in this Trumpian, post-truth world where scientists running a MOOC on climate change receive death threats, I think we have bigger questions to address than technology platforms.

    The best I hope for is that MOOCs allow us to identify practical and implementable improvements to current TELT practices that flow through more conventional courses

    1. By the way, thanks for putting this mini-course up, it’s been interesting to explore some of the bigger picture questions. If there is a follow up, perhaps it might be interesting to dig down into some of the practical hands-on implementation issues that start to look at where teaching and learning practices are changing.

      The work on the recent Survive your PhD MOOC seems useful here, with that MOOC – from what I’ve seen – acting almost as much as a CoP/Support network as a teaching and learning space.

      1. Hi Colin – we had planned to run a longer course on MOOCs that discussed implementation and other aspects, and how to adapt a F2F or traditionally delivered course for MOOC format. Unfortunately due to the double-conference hit of ASCILITE and Moodleposium we were unable to schedule it for this time. We’re hoping to run in the near future though!

  2. I’m still not quite sure where the borders are between MOOCs, online degrees, and courses such as this one. There seems to be a lot of overlap in many ways, but with all of the definitions so open and variable (particularly for MOOCs) its hard for me to establish a consistent theme. I think that MOOCs definitely have a place in higher education, they can be used in a variety of ways and for a variety of people. I love the focus on accessibility for those in remote areas, and for portfolio building purposes, but wonder if this is undermined by paid MOOCs and application-based MOOCs. Personally I think the most ‘disruptive’ thing about MOOCs is the focus on active learning and disrupting the traditional lecture/face-to-face format – which is happening in education more broadly than just within MOOCs.

    I am really interested in one of the things Daphne Koller mentions in this TED talk about the ways in which MOOCs can structure individual pathways through a course. I can see that in my field, within a single MOOC, it would be a really great way to tie the theories and methods back to specific topics of interest, as we get students from so many different backgrounds studying linguistics for so many reasons. It would be great to be able to give lawyers the background in linguistics they needed to understand a particular course, and then give additional materials and lessons on tying what they were learning back to their profession.

  3. I think MOOCs definitely have a place in Higher Education. The question is – what is their place? While I’d like to think Universities would be happy to educate everyone at whatever the cost, the reality is that universities have costs and need to fund the delivery of education and research (hence why universities charge expensive fees). The cost of hosting a MOOC (let alot providing the systems to properly assess students) can be quite high and so the need to monetize a MOOC are very important to universities. I personally feel that universities will reduce the number of MOOCs that they provide in the long term future until such time as they can monetize them. Too date, I believe many unis have started MOOCs with the idea that we can work out how to monetize it later or with the idea that providing a MOOC will help them build capability in the online education space which they then use for their paid online degrees.

  4. Wow, this topic might be interesting to some economists. What appears in my mind is a typical outline of a cost and benefit analysis. For a social decision maker, it might be better to encourage the universities to provide MOOCs so the population could enjoy more knowledge at a lower cost. However, for universities, I was wondering whether the reasons in Day 1 were strong enough to provide their main product at a lower price. For participants/ users, some mechanism designs should be applied to induce their incentive to complete the course. I am optimistic about the future of MOOCs with the support from the government. But it would never replace the traditional degree programs.

  5. Future of MOOCs
    I don’t quite see MOOCs or online education more broadly taking over the world yet. There is something special about face-to-face interaction. In that way I will compare MOOCs to phones and Skype. New media of communication have afforded new opportunities but are a poor substitution to a face-to-face interaction. I see MOOCs used as an additional resource for life-long learning but not a replacement for a university degree.

  6. I don’t think MOOCs are disruptive in and of themselves. The pros are not to be sneezed at. However, I think the potential for disruption lies in their “place” in Higher education. As David mentioned, the real question is not whether they have a place in Higher Ed, but rather, what that place is. The more MOOCs try to compete with, rather than complement, traditional degrees, the greater the potential for being a disruptive force. This will be an interesting space to watch over the next few years/decades.

  7. I rather like the idea of having MOOCs to keep people up-to-date in their field once they have finished their traditional degrees. It also makes sense to use MOOCs as taster courses for more comprehensive ones or use them as prerequisites for more demanding courses.

  8. As Colin mentioned, MOOCs can lead to the democratisation of education. But several sectors will have to work together to achieve this, not just higher ed.
    MOOCs offer excellent professional development opportunities, especially in this era where a lot of jobs are short-term, contract, projects, where employers get to hire the “perfect” employee with the right skills that they need.
    MOOCs credentials are also good complement to one’s degree/s. I like that it fosters lifelong learning and in the case of cMOOCs open the doors for research and collaboration amongst participants.
    Developing any course has associated costs and that’s a great challenge for MOOCs to be sustainable.

  9. The disruptive element of MOOCs is that it pushes us as teachers to think through what engaging content looks like. As a MOOC teacher, how do you meet and exceed the rather miserable 7% completion rate? Its all in the content. Content-driven teaching vs compulsory attendance/blah-blah-blah delivery is a formidable challenge. Its measurable, so you’re on the hook straight away, from week to week. This is all positive to me – yes let’s shake up the dinosaurs of academia and put them on the spot to make sure students are engaged! Direct competition between online or face-to-face teaching >> yep that would certainly force a cultural change in teaching. But… realistically? We are not there yet, we may never be, and the reason may well be (as I alluded to in my previous post) that universities themselves are redefining what it is they provide for the fees they charge. If we are moving towards a commodification of universities accreditation (which we are), then the prestige factor of holding an elite degree that few others have will probably stop MOOCs from becoming the mainstream model as it will not be perceived as being desirable in a competitive jobs landscape.

  10. Regarding the future of MOOCs, I can definitely see how they can be utilized for professional development in the workplace, or even as mentioned in the video on Day 1, to keep up to date with the field as refresher courses after completion of a degree. Additionally, as I mentioned in my Day 1 posting I think that MOOCs could be a valuable tool for people to use pre-uni as a taster for the subject to help make a decision on future studies.

    I’m not as sure of the place that MOOCs have in Higher education. I definitely feel that they could be an interesting addition if used more within university courses as I have experienced in the past – where small MOOCs supplement the class learning experience. For example, the students could be given the option to choose from a few different MOOCs (e.g. in first-year physics they could be given an option of an astro, electromag, or quantum-based MOOC) which would then contribute to a part of their course grade. This promotes the successful completion of the MOOC, provides the students with more options on their learning experience while maintaining faculty interaction and connectivity.

    While I’m not sold on the idea of MOOCs completely replacing higher education, I do feel that they have a place within it.

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