When I’ve presented on open online courses in the past, often one of the first questions that an audience member asks is some form of “how does this make sense financially”. I imagine Stephen, Alec, Dave, and others likely have a similar experience. I believe this is a misplaced question and one that we can’t really answer in the context of what many of us are trying to do with open courses.
What’s happening with open courses (MOOCs)? Essentially, we’re in a period of research. Together with course participants, we are generating data – we are trying to make sense of phenomena. In a traditional research setting, a researcher doesn’t ask practical or application questions when trying to understand “what something is”. Once research has been conducted and results are somewhat agreed upon, then the more practical work of implementation begins. While our work with MOOCs is not as clean cut as “research” and “apply” (they are tightly related and inform each other), it is too early to ask questions of impact and logistics. Universities should be far more active in experimenting on the teaching/learning process than they are currently. Financial and economic details are a different set of questions that need to be considered later. For now, it’s important that we explore ways in which universities might be impacted by networked technologies, global trends, changing contexts, learner expectations, and west-to-east/north-to-south population and capital flows. Organizations that are reluctant to cannibalize their current success risk future failure.