MOOCs leading universities to “question everything”

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are leading a massive upheaval in university education and may have the same disruptive impact on higher education that iTunes had on the music industry, according to a new report by two Australian academics.

The report, Disruptive Education: Technology Enabled Universities, concludes MOOCs have the potential to “unleash vast unmet and unforeseen demand, creating completely new customer expectations, making lots of things better for customers and pushing providers to question everything they do”.

Dean of the Australian School of Business at UNSW Professor Geoffrey Garrett.
Dean of the Australian School of Business at UNSW Professor Geoffrey Garrett.

The report was co-authored by Geoffrey Garrett, the Dean of the Australian School of Business at UNSW Australia, and Sean Gallagher the Chief Operating Officer of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

MOOCs are offered online, free of charge, and come complete with tutorials, materials and tasks. This means that anyone anywhere anytime can access high quality higher education at no or low cost.

The statistics around Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are extraordinary.

In a little over a year, more than 6.5 million students have enrolled in over 800 free classes produced by about 200 universities all around the world. Harvard and MIT have poured $30 million each into their edX collaboration. Private investors have made similar sized bets into Silicon Valley-based Coursera, a rival MOOC platform.

In their report Professor Garrett and Dr Gallagher document the explosion in technology-driven education experimentation now occurring, from leading international players such as Coursera and EdX, to universities like Stanford and Harvard, to domestic start-up innovators including UNSW’s Smart Sparrow.

“Although prophets of doom envisage a MOOC tsunami sweeping away the ivory tower, we see a very bright future for the place-based university – so long as we focus on what is precious about face to face interactions that cannot be commoditised online,” Professor Garrett said.

130804 moocs unsw reportThe report identifies possible future directions and highlight the implications for universities in Australia and around the world, including:

  • MOOCs are here to stay
  • Interactive online degrees are the modern equivalent of distance education
  • Place-based university degrees have a bright outlook provided technology is fully integrated at all stages, beginning with the classroom.

The report was produced with the support of NSW Trade and Investment and can be downloaded here.

Ben Ready
Ben Ready founded MBA News in 2014 and is the Managing Editor. He is a former business and finance journalist with Australian Associated Press (AAP) and Dow Jones Newswires in London. Ben completed his MBA in 2012 and was awarded the QUT GMAA Entrepreneurship Prize. He is also the founder and Managing Director of RGC Media & Mktng (