THE BLOG
07/01/2014 08:44 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2014

A MOOC By Any Other Name

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In the last few weeks the chatter about the role of MOOCS as a revolutionary tool in education has greatly accelerated.

Maybe it's the Starbucks agreement with ASU. Maybe it's the UK report about MOOCS in K-12 schools, as Forbes magazine recently discussed. Or maybe it's that we have reached the tipping point and this strange thing we call MOOCS has penetrated public consciousness.

But what is a MOOC? Oh, we know it stands for massive open online courses, and that faculty and some administrators are very suspicious, if not outright hostile, about their legitimacy.

But more to the point, MOOCS are forcing us to think about online education, which is already here and here to stay. Call them MOOCS, called them distant learning initiatives, call them blended learning courses... the revolution has begun.

As you may remember, there are over 500 such MOOC initiatives in the world founded by academics at some of the most well know universities, i.e., Stanford, Harvard or MIT.

Why?

Perhaps simply because the cost of getting a college degree is no longer affordable to most young people, or in Europe where governments fund college experiences, costs too are becoming more troublesome. And some of the best minds in academe are saying something has got to change.

For now, at least, most MOOCS are free, and they are growing in size and importance despite the opposition of many institutions of higher learning. But to those young people who cannot afford either the tuition or the time or both to enroll in a university program, the MOOCS are catching on. And, as a result, the MOOCS are getting money and attracting talent too.

Most people have heard of Coursesa, co-founded by two academics at Stanford University, which stared early on with $22 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers and New Enterprise Associates. They received another $45 million last year; and former Yale University President Richard C. Levin recently became the chief executive officer of the two-year-old company.

We may not be as familiar with, Schoo a Japanese MOOC with $1.5 million, Futurelearn from England, or iversity, a Berlin-based MOOC that conducted a contest giving 25,000 Euros (about $38,000) to the top 10 ideas for creating an online course. But forget about the "go-it-alone" MOOCS. Whether they make it or not is up in the air although it looks promising nonetheless.

Many universities are either developing their own MOOCS or quietly adopting some form of blended learning using online techniques.

In a recent announcement between Starbucks and ASU, a program was developed for "any of the company's 135,000 United States employees, provided they work at least 20 hours a week and have the grades and test scores to gain admission to Arizona State." The company said it will pay full tuition.

Arizona State already has one of the largest online degree programs in the United States. With 11,000 students and 40 undergraduate majors, it is highly regarded. To serve Starbucks and their existing online students it was no surprise that ASU is creating its own MOOC.

And they aren't alone. The University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Ohio State to mention just a few, are exploring the MOOC approach and some thinking of partnering with Coursesa to strengthen their existing offerings and/or develop courseware for the global market.

And as Business Insider reported last year:

Wharton announced that it would be the first business school to offer much of the substantive core of its MBA program online for free. In addition to the five electives already offered through the Coursera platform, Wharton is offering what it's calling the "Foundation" series, made up of introductory courses in financial accounting, operations management, marketing, and corporate finance, taught by some of its best-known and most senior professors.

As the Economist magazine reported last week, "A revolution has begun thanks to three forces: rising costs, changing demand and disruptive technology. The result will be the reinvention of the university."