On the verge of disruption

One of the ways MOOCs are fundamentally changing traditional higher education is not so much in trying to replace the model, but bringing in competition.

“For one of the first times, MOOCs are giving traditional higher education institutions incentive to reduce cost; it’s driving price competition,” explained Weise. “[2013] was one of the first years we saw more aggressive price competition.”

In other words, the dominant provider is beginning to realize its own limitations, which could lead to lasting change.

Another way MOOCs are verging on disruption is by Udacity’s recent decision to implement an actual disruptive innovation: online competency-based programs.

Many people saw Udacity’s move to partner with companies (like Facebook and Google) to create MOOC packages for skills these employers desire as a failure; but as Weise explained it, it’s really a brilliant decision that could turn into a viable business model.

“Udacity and Coursera were never meant to be providers of totally free, massive courses. They kind of did it to see if they could and then they got typecast. Now, they’re providing a skills pipeline for a fraction of the traditional cost of higher education. And at the same time, they’re lessening the wariness of employers to hire ‘vocational’ students.”

Coursera and edX are also hot on Udacity’s heels, with Coursera partnering with the Wharton Business School to offer a MOOC bundle of courses on the foundation of business, and edX partnering with MIT for logistics. Both provide competency pathways for students.

“It’s easier than seeing a random list of courses from students,” noted Weise. “Offering a bundle of courses from either employers or institutions known to provide an education valued by employers gives students a better chance for employment.”

And let’s be honest, that’s really what’s it’s all about these days: A better chance for employment. Yes, there’s still a need for what traditional four-year institutions provide (deeper thinking, personal growth, an introduction to courses like philosophy and art history), but as the economy changes, so too must providers of education; and in many cases, that means providing other options.

So let’s ease up on MOOCs, because they have the potential to serve up what students need most right now: A chance.

They’re also forcing institutions to lower prices; create better connections with students; and think about better serving the needs of all students, not just some.

“Instead of focusing on what MOOCs lack, focus on what they’re providing those in non-traditional realms and how this could ultimately disrupt higher education,” concluded Haber.

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