6. Political, Social and Economic Drivers of MOOCs

6.3. It’s the Ivy Leagues!

Until MOOCs came along, the major Ivy League universities in the USA, such as Stanford, MIT, Harvard and UC Berkeley, as well as many of the most prestigious universities in Canada, such as the University of Toronto and McGill, and elsewhere, had largely ignored online learning in any form (the exception was MIT, which made much of its teaching material available for free via the OpenCourseWare project).

However, by 2011, online learning, in the form of for credit undergraduate and graduate courses, was making big inroads at many other, very respectable universities, such as Carnegie Mellon, Penn State, and the University of Maryland in the USA, and also in many of the top tier public universities in Canada and elsewhere, to the extent that one in three students in the USA were taking online courses (Allen and Seaman, 2014). Furthermore, at least in Canada, the online courses were often getting good completion rates and matching on-campus courses for quality (Ontario, 2011).

The Ivy League and other highly prestigious universities that had ignored online learning were beginning to look increasingly out of touch by 2011. By launching into MOOCs, these prestigious universities could jump to the head of the queue in terms of technology innovation, while at the same time protecting their selective and highly personal and high cost campus programs from direct contact with online learning. In other words, MOOCs gave these prestigious universities a safe sandbox in which to explore online learning. At the same time, the involvement of the Ivy League universities in online learning for the first time gave credibility to MOOCs, and, inadvertently, online learning as a whole.