Understanding the MOOC moment

10 Jul

By Prof. Randal Picker (guest-blogging)

I want to thank Eugene for allowing me to spend a little time here. Next Monday, I am launching a new free online course, Internet Giants: The Law and Economics of Media Platforms. In it, we will wrestle with questions relating to Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon and the other great companies that define the online platforms we spend so much time with. These companies are involved in important antitrust, copyright and patent cases, both in the United States and Europe, but around the world generally.

We will also consider recent developments in net neutrality and in the regulation of platforms relating to music, video and e-books. These are great topics, and I feel very lucky to have a chance to think about them.

But my plan here is to focus not on the content of my particular course but instead on the MOOC phenomenon more generally. I will also discuss what is involved in launching a MOOC and then will report back over the next couple of months as I see day-to-day life in MOOCland.

Let me back up a little. I have been running a little test over the past three months. When asked what I have been spending my time on, I say quickly, “I have been shooting a MOOC.” That usually gets a blank stare and the occasional question. In truth, as an academic, I am pretty comfortable with both blank stares and questions. The question is usually something along the lines of whether a MOOC is a cousin to a moose, and exactly what do you use to hunt them?

A MOOC is a massive open online course, and it is probably fair to say that there has been a MOOC bubble in universities across the globe over the past three years. We have seen substantial entry into the platforms or infrastructure piece of the market and also by many universities producing courses for those platforms. Venture capitalists have poured in substantial amounts of money into the space, with Coursera having taken in $85 million and Udemy another $65 million last month.

But it is not just the venture capitalists who see opportunities here: Harvard and MIT reportedly ponied up $60 million to launch in May 2012. Certainly, by the standards of teaching experiments in universities — where having four or five different color markers to write on a whiteboard is seen as being at the educational edge — these are enormous amounts of money.

Why? What is going on here? On the venture capital side, the idea is that the university is ready to be — in the word that Clayton Christensen has given us (inflicted on us?) — disrupted. The idea is that an external change to a field makes possible a reorganization of a perhaps long-standing set of institutional arrangements. Think, say, physical distribution of music and newspapers.

[ Full article available at The Washington Post: ]

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Posted by on July 10, 2015 in MOOCs in the News



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