Will MOOCs force colleges to act more like consumer marketing companies?
And other thoughts about the future of education
MOOCs are challenging
the existing education
model, but are they really
going to displace your
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disruptive in their
own right. They are
pushing on traditional
and forcing us to
elements involved in
Education is becoming disaggregated. MOOCs have pulled apart the courses that make up a program
or major. They are literally breaking down the silos that have kept knowledge locked up within
It’s important to not become too myopic and focus on MOOCs as the future of education. But we can
use the emergence of MOOCs to help us understand how disaggregation will change the overall
education system and what this means for the future.
Where do MOOCs belong in the education system? How does their existence truly affect the
system? How will the roles of other players evolve?
Are elite schools giving away the least valuable product in their portfolio?
How strong are our mental models concerning education? For example, would you hire someone
who said they were self taught via MOOCs?
Is it more likely that MOOCs will better serve another purpose? For example, a storefront for
colleges or free training for employees.
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What is happening in
education is not
unlike what has
happened in many
Take the music industry for example.
It’s very easy to say that Coursera, EdX or Udacity (to name the primary players) are very similar to
Where iTunes broke up the albums and made it easy to digitally purchase, these MOOCs have created
a service where students can easily mix and match courses, instead of being forced to buy courses they
don’t really want or need.
Is higher education headed down the same path as the music industry?
If so, what does your school need to do in order to survive?
Let’s explore how this hypothetical, yet very possible, world could look like.
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was like the
The rock stars
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What if higher education institutions acted more
like traditional corporations? Their primary focus
would include strategy, branding, marketing,
distribution, meeting KPIs and maximizing ROIs.
What if professors were the creatives responsible
for product development?
What type of innovative products would be born
out of this structure?
What if campuses became venues for visiting
professors? Opening acts could be performed by
Could distribution players augment this structure
by creating playlists, subscription services or
enabling fans to connect?
How will the needs of students be better served
by this world? Will courses be more exciting and
engaging as professors compete to reach #1
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“I’m going to Harvard
because of the
lectures!” Said no
Our future scenario ignores the complexities our education system, like accreditations, credentials and
the high costs involved with purchasing education. But what our simplistic structure does highlight is an
ecosystem where success is ultimately determined by what resonates most with consumers.
While MOOCs are very new on the education scene, it is becoming evident that they are probably not
the most effective way for students to learn. Very few students finish a course, most drop out before the
first test. Those that complete a course are not exactly the intended target. Most are the lifelong
learners or the already educated.
So why aren’t financially strapped students who do not live close to elite schools taking advantage of
MOOCs? While many hypotheses exist, a significant reason is we understand little about students and
therefore we are not developing effective education products.
Are MOOCs ignoring students’ core needs?
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What do we really know
One would think that the emergence of
MOOCs, whose survival will be dependent
on successful student engagements, would
bring to the forefront a need for greater
focus on students and their core needs, but
this appears to be absent from most
discussions. Students are changing and
their choices are expanding; understanding
their “customers” will help any school better
address their needs and target them.
The student experience
How do students choose their education
path? What really gets them off-track?
Where are the pain points? Do emerging
technologies make it easier or harder?
What do students consider table stakes,
nice to haves, need to haves?
What do students know about colleges
before attending them? How do they
differentiate their options? What are their
perceptions about the different schools?
How do they motivate themselves? What
keeps them motivated? What keeps them
Besides segmenting students based on
GPA, test scores or demographics, what
are similar attitudes and behaviors groups
of students share?
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Is it time for colleges
to think of
themselves as a
Rushing into the MOOC space will not protect a school from failure.
Not all students want to learn online. Not all want to share a class with 30,000 other students. Not all
students want a DIY “degree.”
Schools need to better understand who the are targeting.
Do they really want to be all things to all students? Or are they better off serving a niche community.
Looking at their core competencies and their portfolio can help determine who they target and how they
want to attract them. Maybe this means that more schools need to specialize or maybe they need to
market differently or maybe innovate new products beyond simply going online.
A Brand Development and Marketing Insight Consultancy
Brian Kushnir: Brian.Kushnir@added-value.com
Wai Leng Loh: WaiLeng.Loh@added-value.com
Caroline van der Pool: Caroline.vanderPool@added-value.com