As President Obama develops his second-term agenda, his administration will no doubt focus on a range of higher-education priorities, including affordability, attainment levels, and career preparation. Yet as important as these issues are, something more fundamental is happening: We’re witnessing the end of higher education as we know it.
This transformation is being brought on by “MOOCs” — massive open online courses being offered for little or no cost through entities like edX, Coursera, and Udacity, which aggregate classes from multiple universities onto a single computer-based platform. Millions of people are already utilizing them to tap into higher learning.
In the process, they’re spurring a shakeup of higher education — with dramatic implications.
Most significantly, MOOCs are causing higher education to shift from a vertically integrated model to a horizontally integrated one. For centuries, higher education has been a vertical enterprise: Its core functions — knowledge creation, teaching, testing, and credentialing — all have been housed within colleges and universities. MOOCs disrupt this model by decoupling teaching and learning from the campus on a mass scale.