Are MOOCs really disruptive?

In order for something to be considered disruptive, it has to completely erase the old way of doing things and usher in a new way of doing things that fundamentally changes things forever. Think: The personal laptop.

The other characteristics of a ‘disruptive innovation,’ are the ability to provide services to a market untapped by the current dominate provider, as well as the ability to offer something at a lower cost, but not better than, what the dominant provider is offering.

Sounds like a MOOC, right? Eh, not really.

“MOOCs don’t have all of the characteristics of a disruptive innovation just yet,” said Weise during a podcast with Haber. “Are MOOCs questioning our basic assumptions of what higher education is? Yes. Have they brought attention to the potential of online learning in a positive way, where before there was mostly disdain? Yes. Are they urging teachers to connect more with their students and personalize their lectures? Yes. But are they disruptive to traditional higher education? No.”

Watch Weise discuss higher-ed trends:

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According to Weise, while MOOCs are low-cost and not necessarily better than face-to-face learning, they still don’t tap into a different market, since “the average MOOC attendee already has a BA; is over the age of 30; and is looking to take a MOOC not for a degree, but rather furthering their life education.”

Weise is right. According to all of the big MOOC providers, like edX, attendees already possess a degree, are older, and often employed. There’s no untapped market there.

That’s not to say there aren’t cases where this isn’t true in developing countries, like Rwanda, in which Haber pointed out is currently piloting Kepler—a fully online nonprofit university program that combines MOOCs with in-person seminars to provide students with employment opportunities.

But these examples, so far, are few and far between.

However, Weise brought up another interesting point: MOOCs may be on the verge of being disruptive, thanks to Udacity.

(Next page: On the verge of disruption)

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