Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are hailed as a new innovation so disruptive for academia today that they will do to higher education what the Internet has done to newspapers or what Napster did to music. There's only one problem with this bold hypothesis: It's simply not true.
Don't get me wrong, online learning will fundamentally transform higher education, bridging distances and creating access in ways that have not been possible before. But, in this arena, MOOCs are not a transformative innovation that will forever remake academia. That honor belongs to a more disruptive and far-reaching innovation – "big data." A catchall phrase that refers to the vast numbers of data sets that are collected daily, big data promises to revolutionize online learning and, in doing so, higher education.
Big data in the online learning space will give institutions the predictive tools they need to improve learning outcomes for individual students. By designing a curriculum that collects data at every step of the student learning process, universities can address student needs with customized modules, assignments, feedback and learning trees in the curriculum that will promote better and richer learning.