The End of the University as We Know It — One of Two Visions of a MOOC-filled World

When I talk to people about MOOCs, I realize that people are hearing two radically different stories.

The first group hears that MOOCs can replace lectures, as MOOCs as a kind of textbook. They dream of higher-quality education with blended/flipped classrooms with more interactive exchange during classtime. This group wants to keep Colleges and Universities, and make them better (here’s an example of that vision). The second group hears the story linked below: that MOOCs will replace classes, then schools. They expect (and maybe even want) the MOOCopalypse.

What’s fascinating to me is that each group generally dismisses the other’s story.

  • The flipped/blended classroom group expresses shock when I tell them the second story. ”Who would want to do that? That would ruin universities! Quality would decrease.”
  • The MOOCopalypse group doesn’t understand why you would want to do flipped/blended classrooms. ”But that doesn’t reduce costs!”

I like the first story, and the second one scares me. Consider the implications of the vision described below (which is a clear second-group story). With less in-class interaction, graduation rates will plummet — online classes have dramatically lower completion rates without face-to-face contact. With far fewer schools, there is a much smaller demand for PhD’s, so fewer people will pursue higher degrees. Our technological innovation and competitiveness will whither. Think hard about what Universities provide for you before you write them off.

In fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it. The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.

Deepa Singh
Business Developer
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