MOOCs are not disruptive

and this should worry higher ed

I read yet another article today stating how MOOCs are a disruptive technology. But are they?

Simply doing something you’ve always done, but doing it with technology doesn’t automatically make it disruptive.

Disruption doesn’t start purely with technology. It starts with a customer whose needs are not being well met finding that their needs can be met by a new innovation.

Successful organisations are honed to satisfy the needs of their main and most profitable customers. The organisation, its hierarchy and philosophy are set up to achieve this aim. They can be unwilling/unable to release a product to meet the needs of the unsatisfied niche customer.

However, a new organisation may develop a cheaper, more basic, product on a small scale that does happen to satisfy the needs of this niche customer.

It sometimes transpires that this niche customer is part of a growing market. A market that might not be so niche quite soon. This market can see rapid growth, supported by the ever improving cut down product. This can often be at the expense of the traditional big players. This is a innovation that is disruptive. This is how big, successful organisations can fail.

The ‘post-traditional’ learner is that customer whose needs are not being well met. Who is being over served by the traditional HE set up. Who doesn’t have the time to commit to a traditional course. Who doesn’t feel the high cost will provide the returns. Who needs flexible courses, both in terms of timescales and content. Who the traditional HE sector is unable or unwilling to satisfy.

A product/technology that satisfies those and other needs may well become the product/technology that disrupts HE.

As it stands MOOCs are not that product. The are generally a marketing exercise to entice people onto the traditional courses. They aim to sustain the current model, not disrupt it.

If the traditional HE providers, particularly those involved in distance learning such as the Open University, are looking to avoid losing their prominent status then I believe they need to meet the needs of this new market. And they need to meet those needs before other providers do.

Traditional players rarely fair well when entering a disruptive market late.