Mediaplanet: What effects do you believe MOOCs will have on the industry of distance learning?

Sir John Daniel: Elite universities started the MOOCs craze. Although their MOOCs are mostly of poor quality, seeing the Ivy League teaching online is making people take all distance learning more seriously. Established distance-learning providers that offer convenient and high quality courses for credit will attract new students.

MP: In what ways can we increase access to higher education through innovative technology?

SJD: Technology revolutionizes higher education by allowing us simultaneously to increase access, improve quality and cut costs. Today’s innovations, such as inexpensive tablets, rapidly expanding worldwide connectivity, mobile devices and open educational resources (OER) are giving the revolution a great boost. Today, access to higher education is potentially universal.  

MP: How has online education changed the future of learning?

SJD: Online education means 3Cs: choice, convenience and (low) cost. Learners can pick from many MOOCs – just the tip of the online iceberg. They can study where, when and how they like. Although free MOOCs don’t give credit, plenty of low-cost credit courses are available online.

MP: What is one of the greatest stigmas around online programs, and how can we combat it?

SJD: Shoddy business practices by some providers, especially the mass recruitment of students with little prospect of success, hurt everyone. Online learning was not the real issue. The spread of quality assurance systems worldwide and, in the US, stricter regulation of student loans, are addressing the problem.

MP: While pushing to open education, how can we ensure the utmost quality of these online programs?

SJD: Higher education is being ‘unbundled’. Learners can find their content as OER on the Web, choose one institution to provide mentoring, and have another assess them for credit and credentials. Accrediting agencies are adapting to unbundling, but learners must become canny shoppers – and can find great bargains!

MP: Why has the industry of online education surged in popularity over the past 10 years?

SJD: Society has changed. Many people must now work and learn at the same time. They need new skills and knowledge for the evolving labor market. Online learning, from both public and private institutions, is responding with a tremendous diversity of offerings and new employment-relevant credentials.