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Stanford Joins MOOC Arms Race


As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, schools that offer MOOCs are getting nervous about how much power they’ve handed over to the private companies that host their courses. Stanford is among them:

Why? “There are people who are uncomfortable for a range of reasons,” says Jane Manning, director of platforms for Stanford Online, the university’s new online-learning arm. “They’ve seen what happened on the research side of the house with the academic publishers, where academic publishers ended up having a lot of pricing power.”…

“But there are risks,” says Ms. Manning, now in rehearsal mode. “First of all, there is this branding issue that Stanford is concerned about. If you see tweets from students who have just finished a Stanford course on Coursera, you get a lot of, ‘Thanks, Coursera,’ ‘I just finished a Coursera class.’

“Meanwhile, Stanford has spent a fortune. We have this high-end video studio, we have these faculty. Stanford is spending a fortune on these classes, but nobody says, ‘Thank you, Stanford.'”

That might scan as petty, but Ms. Manning says the news business provides a cautionary tale about what happens when power shifts “from content creators to content aggregators.”

Driven by these concerns, Stanford is now using edX’s open-source platform to host its own online courses rather than cede control to private companies like Coursera or Udacity. It’s part of a greater effort to strengthen the university’s online infrastructure and ultimately emerge as a leader in the MOOC world as other schools follow its example.

It’s good to see a school of Stanford’s caliber embrace the MOOC movement rather than cling to the traditional model for fear of its challenges. As more schools like it come to take MOOCs seriously as a core piece of their mission, expect competition with the companies that host their content to heat up.

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  • Reticulator

    A school of high caliber has a lot less to fear from MOOCs than the others do.

    • rheddles

      I’d say MOOCs are a much greater opportunity for schools of high calibre. It is easy to see a period of consolidation coming to the higher ed segment. The Stanfords of the world have a great opportunity to expand if they can figure out how to do so without diminishing their brand value. The question is how far it will go. I suspect there is not a need for more than 16 -32 Division I schools.

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