UK e-University and MOOCs; polar opposites in philosophy and practice

Moocs are in the news again. They are dominating Guardian Online Education where the latest  headline is UK universities are wary of getting on board the mooc train.  MOOC should win a prize for the unlikeliest, and possibility ugliest, acronym of 2012. Putting that to one side, MOOCs, and the philosophy behind them, cannot be ignored. The speed at which MOOCs are developing makes it almost certain the Massive Online Open Course bubble is going to burst but it’s not yet clear what will make that happen.

Hindsight is enhanced with time and it’s now over eight years since the closure of the UK e-University. Two key documents tell the story; The real story behind the failure of the UK e university  by Richard Garrett and Lessons to be learned from the failure of the UK e-university by Paul Bacsich.

Times have changed. The UK e-University was complex involving massive amounts of investment, partnerships, market research plus the building of a new technology platform, all with multiple drivers including hefce and the government. Compare this with MOOCs. User generated content and social media networks have revolutionised the internet in a very short space of time. Uploading content and enabling platforms for discussion and collaborative working has never been so easily achieved while the production and distribution of multimedia has been democratised.

We live in changing times and MOOCs reflect this. In 2004, an e-university was conceived of as a company following traditional organisational structure and practices. In 2012 that model has been thrown out of the window. Open education is becoming a reality for those with means of access. Open Educational Resources and publishing is making quality content freely available online. The UK e-University and MOOCs are polar opposites in philosophy and practice. Somewhere between the two is a workable model but we haven’t yet recognised quite how that will look.