What Blackberry can teach foreign branch campuses about MOOCs?

Here is the excerpt from my article published in University World News.

In 2007, BlackBerry was at the forefront of the smartphones industry with over 40% of the market share in the United States. However, the iPhone offered a new choice to consumers and redefined their expectations of a smartphone.

Now Blackberry is arguably on its deathbed, with its market share slipping to less than 4% in the US. The Wall Street Journal notes that “it was a blinding confidence in the basic BlackBerry product that was at the root of RIM’s [parent company of Blackberry] current troubles”.

In the same vein, MOOCs are beginning to offer a new choice to students, and are not only changing the financial equation of foreign branch campuses but also the way education is delivered as a result of technological advances.

In my previous blog [Could MOOCs lead to the decline of branch campuses?], I argued that branch campuses are infrastructure-intensive efforts with high financial and reputational risk. In contrast, MOOCs offer a low-cost, flexible alternative for ‘glocal’ students [Are you prepared for the arrival of ‘glocal’ students?] to potentially earn a foreign credential. Yet some branch campuses may be turning a blind eye to this alternative choice, which may lead them into the BlackBerry fallacy.

Many institutions may be caught off-guard due to the pace of MOOCs’ evolution. Here are some of the recent developments:

  • Coursera has signed up 17 more institutions, including Brown University and Columbia University, to offer courses to its 1.35 million students. It gets 4% of its students (50,000+) from China and getting more traction.
  • edX has also announced a partnership with Pearson’s testing centres to allow its students to take proctored exams, which in turn would provide a pathway for earning credit.
  • Colorado State University’s Global Campus announced it would give transfer credits to Udacity students who have taken a proctored test.
  • Moody’s Investors Service “observes that MOOCs have the potential to transform the way distance learning is perceived and delivered”

While I recognised some of the obstacles concerning their revenue model and credentials system as “the MOOCs unknowns” in my previous post, there are admittedly additional challenges of plagiarism and employer acceptance.

I still believe that, despite these challenges, in the next few years MOOCs will mature from irrational exuberance to a more sustainable model that fundamentally changes the form and character of foreign branch campuses.

Existing branch campuses, especially those supported by government funding or having reputable brand names attached to them, are less likely to be impacted by MOOCs.

However, newer branch campuses will face unexpected competition from MOOCs and existing campuses could become more attractive to students seeking a campus experience because there are fewer new branch campuses.

Institutions should monitor, understand and adapt to the brave new world of MOOCs and their influence on internationalisation strategies and international students. As The New Yorker summed up the fate of Blackberry: “The real problem is that the technology world changed, and RIM didn’t.”

Here is a video from Daphne Koller of Coursera making case for MOOCs for improving global access to education.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha