Coursera CEO Rick Levin: Reports of MOOC Disruption to Higher Education Greatly Exaggerated!

Dear Commons Community,

Poets & Quants has an interview with Rick Levin, former president of Yale University and presently CEO of the MOOC provider, Cousera. He offers a number of insights into where he thinks MOOCs are heading.

“Levin pooh-poohs predictions that free online courses are going to put many universities out of business anytime soon. Far more likely, he says, employers will begin to recognize the value of online credentials and reward employees for having them with promotions, pay increases, and new opportunities.

True disruption to higher education, believes Levin, will take many years and largely impact commuter colleges not known for deep engagement between students and faculty. For universities that sit on the sidelines, there could be significant consequences. Levin predicts that global rankings of universities are likely to take into account the number of people in the world touched by a university’s professors. That would a global university’s status and prestige partly dependent on a school’s reach which can greatly be expanded through online learning…

We are still at the stage where it [online learning] is expanding the [higher education] market rather than substituting for educational offerings. The biggest effect is in bringing new learners in. Three-quarters of our learners are over the age of 22. They are beyond secondary and college years. Most of them are working and they are using it primarily for career advancement or personal enrichment in equal proportions. That is not a hugely disruptive thing at this point. That is additive, an enhancement to what we provide.

The evidence is beginning to be very clear that if properly managed and done strategically, online learning can be a net revenue enhancement. MOOCs can increase the visibility of a university, generate revenue from learners who buy certificates, and serve as lead generation to master’s and other programs.

Over time, there will be a tendency for institutions of higher education to want to use some of high quality MOOCs in their own instructional programs. But it will take time and there will be institutional inertia that will make it slow. If we look over decades, sure disruption will happen.”

The entire interview provides excellent commentary on the future of online learning and higher education. The vast majority of colleges and universities will have to plan carefully and strategically how to integrate online learning into their academic programs. Very few will seek to disrupt their operations to do so.


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