In almost every meeting I have attended over the last few weeks, the conversation has at some point turned to MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses). There have generally been two main points of view expressed in these discussions. One group tends to express enthusiasm for being involved in MOOCs, albeit I have rarely heard many people articulate a clear strategy to back up this desire. The other group usually lists a number of reasons why MOOCs are a bad idea and hence why they are going to ignore them and continue as they always have done.

What I find fascinating is how animated everyone is during these debates – nobody has yet disinterestedly shrugged off the discussion. From conversations in the pub to the Davos World Economic Forum, MOOCs are under discussion.

For some years I was a senior manager in a large distance learning organisation and used to get frustrated with the distinct lack of interest or respect within the educational sector for the provision of distance learning courses. Many thousands of people every year enrolled on these courses, each with a personal reason why their specific learning needs could not be met though more traditional routes.

Technology had not then revolutionised the way in which we worked, learned, socialised and communicated. Now we have seen how new technologies, especially social media, have made a dramatic difference to a distance learning experience.

Creating an open exchange of best practice

There has been a hugely disruptive impact of new technologies in the entertainment and publishing industries, so why do we think it is unlikely to have as big an impact on education? We are no longer solely dependent upon large institutions acting as a distribution channel to take information or entertainment to the masses. Music artists have rocketed to success through YouTube, bloggers replace traditional journalism, Delia Smith abandoned television to self broadcast via YouTube, and we get breaking news first on Twitter. I was interested to read just last week of the first movie release straight to Xbox360 and remembered the time when I thought that video films would never take off!

I have just signed up for a MOOC myself, on the topic of E-learning and Digital Cultures. Like most people that enroll on a MOOC, I may not do the whole course, I may be more of a ‘lurker’ than an active participant, I don’t need a recognised qualification in the subject, but I am excited about this opportunity to learn more about an area that interests me and to share that experience with other participants.

With people signing up in their hundreds of thousands for MOOCs, I have been surprised by some people’s denial of any possible disruptive effect from MOOCS on our traditional higher education sector.