From a Chronicle of Higher Education article looking at potential ways MOOC-affiliated universities (the article defines MOOC as what scholars would call xMOOC) could benefit financially through the MOOC affiliation, an interesting and snippy comment about MOOCs and the University of Phoenix:
Ms. Koller insists that the courses the company is offering differ fundamentally from those at the University of Phoenix. “Their online effort is really traditional teaching mediated by the computer as opposed to using the tech in a fundamental way,” she argues. “There’s no economies of scale there. What we’re doing is one instructor, 50,000 students. This is the way to bend the cost curves.”
From an economic perspective, Coursera (the MOOC organization Ms. Koller helped originate) and U of Phoenix are apples and oranges: Coursera is a non-profit financed through grants and contributions, while Phoenix is a for-profit university built on student-based tuition. MOOCs are not all non-profit; Udacity is a for-profit enterprise.
From a learning perspective, Koller’s comments do not address the subject. She says University of Phoenix, a university whose course offerings are wholly online and utilize elements such as audio and video lectures, synchronous online discussions, learning management systems, discussion boards, testing and project-based learning, is not utilizing technology in the same fundamental way as Coursera. My experience with Coursera involves video lectures, the opportunity for synchronous online discussions, a learning management system, discussion boards, and some sort of assessment (one course tests and quizzes, another written work). I do not see a fundamental difference in how both use technology; quite to the contrary, I see no difference in how they use technology. One difference is in Open (#oped12); anyone can take a Coursera course (full disclosure: I am in two), but it costs $$$ to enroll at University of Phoenix.
If the pedagogies are largely the same, where are the differences? The economic one is certain, but there is more to see. Certainly we must speak of esteem; Princeton and Dartmouth hold much more weight than Argossy and Full Sail. There is a stigma with for-profit institutions, and many see that stigma as relevant to low learning outcomes, shady business practices and a general decline in for-profit enrollments over the last two years. One would also expect that esteem comes from ability, and the quality of a Coursera or edX course, sponsored by Penn or Harvard, would be more rigorous than a course at Capella University. Is quality institutional, will it be developed by the community of learners, and what is the role of instructor in the end goal of quality? This would be a great place for an intrepid researcher to study — compare existing online universities with MOOC courses to see where value is along multiple variables.