How about dropping the term MOOCs?

Higher education is still grappling with how to determine a successful outcome from the explosion of interest in massive open online courses – MOOCs – this month’s conference of The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education heard. One international higher education expert said the generic term MOOC was part of the problem.

Graham Wood, partnerships development director at Kaplan International Colleges, said: “We ought to drop the generic term MOOC.

“It is being overused and applied in so many ways it is becoming quite confusing for the discussion and the narrative about how it is emerging,” he told the conference held in London from 11-12 December and titled “The International Higher Education Revolution: Impacts on mobility, qualifications, networks”.

Various manifestations

“I think we need a taxonomy in order to help us think about MOOCs in their various manifestations, and how we might apply them in our partnership strategies, network strategies and internationalisation strategies, whether you are in the private sector or whether you are a university,” Wood said.

Kaplan delivers academic and pathway programmes in 11 countries and helps universities to establish offshore activities. Wood directed the international strategies at three UK universities, and helped to set up a British campus in Bangkok, before joining the company.

He said: “You have got to think about networks and partnerships and how they might benefit from MOOCs, and the real distinction between the learner at the centre of MOOCs and the brand at the centre of MOOCs, and how we determine a successful journey.

“Is it a success for the learner or a success for the brand?

“As for universities, you have to grapple with how this fits in with your university’s vision and its strategies.”

Glorious or ‘gloriously expensive’

On the one-hand, the impact of MOOCs on internationalism could result in a glorious outcome with an increased global footprint, an outstanding marketing platform and valuable marketing intelligence.

On the other hand, it could turn out to be “gloriously expensive”, Wood said, and questioned whether universities had the capacity to utilise all of the outcomes.

He suggested an alternative perspective of looking at MOOCs from relationships with partners – sharing costs and risks; focusing on learning enhancements; and sharing best practice.

Wood said he accepted that MOOCs were here-to-stay, but added: “At Kaplan, we are saying ‘No’ to what is the contemporary view on MOOCs and we are not planning one.”

“Our business is the successful transition of students between different educational systems and we still have concerns that online does not adequately address the differences between learning cultures.

“It doesn’t bridge cultural gaps.”