7. Why MOOCs Are Only Part of the Answer?

7.3. Undermining the Public Higher Education System

The real danger is that xMOOCs may be used to undermine what is admittedly an expensive public higher education system. If elite universities can deliver MOOCs for free, why do we need low quality and high-cost state universities? The risk is a sharply divided two-tier system, with a relatively small number of campus-based elite universities catering to the rich and privileged, and developing the knowledge and skills that will provide rich rewards, and the masses being fed xMOOC-delivered courses, with state universities providing minimal and low-cost learner support for such courses. This would be both a social and economic disaster because it would fail to produce enough learners with the high-level skills that are going to be needed for good jobs in the coming years – unless you believe that automation will remove all decently paid jobs except for a tiny elite (bring on the Hunger Games).

Content accounts for less than 15 percent of the total cost over five years for credit-based online programs; the main costs required to ensure high-quality outcomes and high rates of completion are spent on learner support, providing the learning that matters most. The kind of MOOCs being promoted by politicians and the media fail spectacularly to do this. We do need to be careful that the open education movement in general, and MOOCs in particular, are not used as a stick by those in the United States and elsewhere who are deliberately trying to undermine public education for ideological and commercial reasons. On their own, open content, OERs and MOOCs do not automatically lead to open access to high-quality credentials for everyone. In the end, a well-funded public higher education system remains the best way to assure access to higher education for all.