How MOOCs will influence campus design

The New York Times called 2012 the year of the MOOCs[i]. The Dutch Minister of Education recently pointed out the developments in digital education and I myself followed courses on Coursera and wondered how these massive open online courses or MOOCs will influence the design of the campus. Since the investments that universities have to make in order to keep the campus up to date are substantial, the required renewals should be as effective as possible. Technology makes it easy to work or study at home, but empty offices and lecture halls do not contribute to the conviction that resources are used efficiently. I presume that the success of MOOCs will have consequences for the need of big lecture halls. Let’s have a closer look on these MOOCs.

According to Wikipedia ‘A massive open online course (MOOC) is an online course aiming at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for the students, professors, and TAs. MOOCs are a recent development in distance education.’ (Wikipedia 2013-5-12)[ii] A lot more can be found on the internet. Nevertheless I restrict myself mainly to a key publication by Sir John Daniel[iii] to finally indicate some consequences for university real estate at the end of this paper. Therefor I will not elaborate on the pedagogical consequences of teaching methods, quality and cost aspects but concentrate first on a general background.

The first course that was called a MOOC was at the University of Manitoba by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2008. (Wikipedia) (Daniel, p.3) Daniel describes the history of MOOC; he distinguishes two kinds of MOOCs: the xMOOC and the cMOOC. The cMOOCs are based on connectivism with a totally open platform. ‘(…) participants set their own learning goals and type of engagement. (…) the fact that the platform is totally open, means that they probably aren’t very easy to make any money from.’(Lugton, 2012)[iv] Udacity, Coursera and edX are examples of xMOOCs. They have also discussion forums but ‘the centre of the course is the instructor-guided lesson. Each student’s journey/trajectory through the course is linear and based on the absorption and understanding of fixed competencies. Learning is seen as something that can be tested and certified’. (Lugton, 2012) The development of MOOCs is very well displayed in the diagram of Phil Hill.[v] On the right side the challenges are displayed as recognized at this time.

Phil Hill 2012

(Phil Hill, 2012)

These challenges: the question if MOOCs ever can make money, problems as accreditation, certification, course completion rate (10 %!( Daniel p.14)) and student authentication are described by Daniel in relation to the (changing) attitude of universities towards the development of e-learning. Daniel refers to failed experiments with online courses like AllLearn and Fathom early this century, by well-known universities who lost a lot of money on it, which makes some universities rather reluctant on this topic (p.12ff). Although some of these universities have joined the actual MOOC development again, lots of universities are still afraid that this development of e-learning is just another hype, and question the business model of MOOCs.

In respect to the earning possibilities the latest trend of xMOOCs like Coursera is promising. They are experimenting with Career Services to match students and head-hunters. Coursera recruits employers on their website with: ‘If you’re an employer who would like to hire the intellectually curious and hardworking students who take courses with Coursera’ (…)’[vi] This could turn into a profitable and competitive advantage in respect to some universities.

The question is: what should universities do? I would say: Join in; invest in your teachers and software. But rethink well how to deal with the difference in tuition fees of real life universities and MOOCs, and differences in grading. I agree with Dua, Bates and others:

‘While no one can predict the future, it seems likely that we are heading toward two versions of hybrid learning experiences in higher education. The first would still be campus-centric, with technology allowing a more efficient and effective reengineering of the learning experience, with lectures moving exclusively online, and with class time reserved for small-group problem solving and conversation. The other hybrid mode would be digital-centric (and much less costly), with a core online component supplemented, perhaps, by self-organized study groups, as we see happening already in MOOCs. Some digital-centric options may be associated with traditionally accredited college brands; others may live purely in the world of alternative credentials. Students from wealthier families and those with adequate financial aid may prefer the residential experience (and the lifelong personal networks that come with it). But the cost–value equation will shift so rapidly in the years ahead, and employers will develop so great a stake in the new system they help design, that millions of students will probably flourish without ever setting foot on traditional campuses.’ (Dua, 2013) [vii] ‘Online and hybrid learning provides a chance to re-think the role and purpose of the whole university campus, as well as what we should be doing in classrooms when students have online learning available anytime and anywhere.’(Bates, 2013)[viii]

MOOCs and hybrid learning will change the campus. The current problems with the MOOC concept will be overcome and universities have to determine their strategy regarding this development. Universities, who have already problems to fully schedule their big lecture halls profitable, may reconsider their need. Big lecture halls will only be used in case a star professor will show up. Seminars, workshops, tutorials and laboratories will stay, at least for the time being. Thus we will see a mix of face-to-face learning and e-learning in universities. As a consequence of the high differences in tuition fees the residential model can take advantage of the price and quality differences and focus on the rich and or very talented. Universities with a coherent (hybrid) educational programme will have an advantage as face-to-face communication is still more efficient than virtual communication and informal encounters on a university still inspire scholars and students. In a physical environment where you can see literally your fellow students struggle, to master the learning material, it is more motivating to practice beyond your own abilities.[ix]

Whatever the MOOC development will do, campuses will change but stay, due to their importance as informal meeting place, social network, marriage market and hotbed of talent. The importance of the physical place will get larger but smaller in size. Facilitating casual meetings will be given space. There is still a lot of work to do for designers, planners and university boards!

[i] Pappano, Laura “The year of the MOOC” New York Times, Educational Life, November 2, 2012, Correction: November 11, 2012 Web. Accessed 2013-5-26 <>

[ii] Wikipedia, “Massive open online course”. Web. Accessed: 2013-5-12 <>

“The term MOOC was coined in 2008 during a course called “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” that was presented to 25 tuition-paying students in Extended Education at the University of Manitoba in addition to 2,300 other students from the general public who took the online class free of charge. All course content was available through RSS feeds, and learners could participate with their choice of tools: threaded discussions in Moodle, blog posts, Second Life, and synchronous online meetings. The term was coined by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island, and Senior Research Fellow Bryan Alexander of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education in response to the course designed and led by George Siemens of Athabasca University and Stephen Downes of the National Research Council (Canada).”

[iii] Daniel, Sir John, 2012 “Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility” Online learning and distance education resources, moderated by Tony Bates, research associate, contact North. Contact North. Web. Accessed 2013-5-12 <>

Sir John Daniel, former President & Chief Executive Officer Commonwealth of Learning

‘Sir John Daniel served as President and C.E.O. of COL from 2004 to 2012. He is now working on a variety of international projects, notably as Education Master in the Beijing DeTao Masters Academy, China and Chair of the UWC (United World Colleges) International Board.’

Common Wealth of Learning. Web. Accessed 2013-5-12 <>

‘Hosted by the Government of Canada and headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is the world’s only intergovernmental organisation solely concerned with the promotion and development of distance education and open learning. COL was created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies.’ Common Wealth of Learning Web. Accessed 2013-5-12 <>

[iv] Lugton, Martin, “What is a MOOC? What are the different types of MOOC? xMOOCs and cMOOCs” Reflections. Posted on August 23, 2012. WordPress. Web. Accessed 2013-5-12 <>

[v] Feldstein Michael, [Hill, Phil] “Four Barriers That MOOCs Must Overcome To Build a Sustainable Model” e-Literate. Posted on July 24, 2012 WordPress. Web. Accessed 2013-5-12 <>

[vi] Jones-Bey, Lal, Business Development ‘Coursera and your career’. Posted December 4, 2012. Coursera. Web. Accessed: 2013-5-20 <>

[vii] Dua, André, 2013. “College for all, Open online courses are changing higher education. Traditional colleges face dangers—and opportunities” Insights & Publications McKinsey&Company. Web. Accessed 2013-5-20


[viii] Bates, Tony “Discussing design models for hybrid/blended learning and the impact on the campus” Online learning and distance education resources, moderated by Tony Bates, research associate, contact North. Contact North. Posted, may 8, 2013. Web. Accessed 2013-5-12 <>

[ix] Coyle, Daniel (2009) ‘The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How’ (Bantam; New York)


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Filed under Campus Planning and Design, Higher Education, MOOCs, Uncategorized

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