When the news broke last week that Georgia Tech had reached an agreement with Udacity and AT&T to offer a Master of Science degree in computer science for just USD7000, this must have sent shivers down the spines of university Vice-Chancellors and Presidents all around the world.
If it did not, it should of done. Currently ranked 24th in the world for computer science, Georgia Institute of Technology is certainly no slouch. Throw a Fortune 500 company like AT&T into the mix, and the hip, new delivery platform provided by Udacity and you have a potent combination.
George Siemens (@gsiemens) simply tweeted: ‘OK, this is significant’ with a link to the Udacity blog and Sebastian Thrun’s statement about the deal. It is significant if Siemens says its significant given he was one of the architects of the original MOOC concept back in 2008, albeit when it was a very different beast to the one today. Siemens and his collaborators (the so-called cMOOC group) are critical of the private equity led xMOOC model because of its behaviourist — as opposed to connectivist — educational philosophy. I happen to agree with these criticisms but this is of little relevance right now, given this latest development, because the academic debate about the merits of one learning theory or another take second place to economics and what consumers of higher education perceive to be value for money. In terms of the chart above (courtesy of Phil Hill), it seems at least two of the problems faced by the xMOOCS have just been fixed; viz. credentialing and a revenue stream.
So now we have a MOC. It’s a massive course, and it’s online, but it’s not open — at least not if you want the credential of a Georgia Tech degree. The reason this is such a big deal is that — putting the pedagogical debate to one side — given the awarding body is a globally highly ranked university, the rational consumer sees value for money; i.e. high quality at a lower cost. The potential impact on universities offering traditional masters degrees in computer science is huge.
The first xMOOC was a computer science course, and since then, just about every discipline has been ‘MOOCified’ in some shape or form. I would anticipate that it will not be too long before a top ranking business school partners with one of the private MOOC providers and offers an MBA for a similar price.
The business models of universities must change and change fast if they are to withstand this upheaval.