Photo:  Helloquence/Unsplash
Photo: Helloquence/Unsplash

Policy Statement on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

EI's 9th International Further and Higher Education and Research Conference | Brussels, November 2014

published 1 December 2014 updated 15 May 2024


Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, represent the latest effort to harness new information and communication technologies to provide higher education. Supporters of MOOCs portray them as an inexpensive and innovative way of delivering content to a vast audience. Increasingly, some see the potential for profits to be made in selling MOOCs on a global scale.

Education International is dedicated to the removal of barriers that traditionally restrict access to and success in higher education. EI is also strongly committed to increasing equality and equity of educational opportunity for all qualified persons. MOOCs are just one medium that may allow higher education institutions to pursue these goals. Nonetheless, governments, institutions and private providers may also misuse MOOCs and other distance education technologies to promote privatisation, reduce public funding, and increase managerial control over academic staff.

EI asserts that the following principles must be used to guide the development and use of MOOCs and other technologically-mediated forms of higher education:

1. Higher education is a public good and a public service.

EI believes that education is a public good and a human right. MOOC’s should not be used to weaken public provision of education or promote the privatisation and commercialisation of public education.

2. Higher education should be accessible to all qualified persons.

MOOCs and other forms of on-line education may help increase access to higher education, but only if they are a supplement to and not a replacement for proven pedagogical practices. Many current MOOC offerings have large enrolments, but suffer from extraordinarily high drop-out rates compared to traditional face-to-face instruction. Access to higher education is meaningless if students are not successful.

3. Higher education should promote equity and reduce social disadvantages.

Evidence suggests that at-risk, minority and other disadvantaged students fare more poorly with MOOCs than with in-class instruction. In this way, MOOCs may increase rather than lessen inequality in educational outcomes. MOOCs also threaten to create two tiers of higher education: one in which privileged students get their own professor, and the other in which students watch videotaped lectures on a computer screen.

4. Governments have an obligation to ensure that higher education receives adequate public funding.

MOOCs should not be used as a way for governments to reduce public funding and cut instructional costs. In fact, the costs of producing high-quality MOOCs and other online courses are not often cheaper than face-to-face classes.

5. Higher education should be offered in ways appropriate to the needs of students and relevant to local context.

MOOCs to date are overwhelmingly a Western, Anglo-American effort and based upon a particular academic experience, knowledge base and pedagogical approach. The vast majority of courses are offered in English. MOOCs therefore may not provide courses relevant to local needs or sensitive to different knowledge systems and traditions. At an extreme, MOOCs may inhibit the development of local capacity and content, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

6. Higher education teaching personnel should have the freedom to select and use teaching and support materials which they believe to be appropriate.

Academic freedom includes the right to teach without any interference, including the right to choose the content and methods of teaching, and the freedom to use or not to use any specific technique or technology. No higher education teacher should be forced to adopt or use MOOCs if s/he feels it is inappropriate.

7. Higher education teaching personnel should retain their intellectual property rights of course material no matter what the mode of delivery.

Currently, most MOOC providers establish a proprietary claim on material included in their courses, license the access and use of that material to the user, and exercise ownership over user-generated content. To fully exercise academic freedom, however, higher education teaching personnel should retain ownership of their course material, including material used in distance and on-line courses.