Are ‘MOOCs’ right for your higher ed brand?

john 2By John Brodeur

Education is priceless, so it might seem surprising that universities around the planet are “giving away” instruction and talent in the form of MOOCs – massive open online courses. With MOOCs, the same course material from the same professors for whom traditional students pay dearly is now becoming free to anyone in the world with a Web browser – no degree, no application, no SATs required. Millions have enrolled, and the most popular courses can attract tens of thousands of “students.”

Online schoolWhile the ultimate effect of MOOCs remains to be experienced, the vision is positively utopian: If ignorance is responsible for human suffering, imagine how universal access to the most rarefied knowledge could advance human civilization.

And while MOOCs are sweeping across the higher education landscape, there is little awareness outside of academia of this form of online learning.

MOOCs as brand builders

Surprisingly, three out of four Americans still know little or nothing about MOOCs, according to our new Brodeur Partners research, the first public opinion survey in the United States on the subject. The research offers many rich insights as well for any campus leader with MOOCs on their agenda. Although institutions will make their own decisions about whether to offer MOOCs, here are three quick takeaways, based on the research, for managing MOOCs from a communications perspective:

  • The institution can define its position and market. With so many people still discovering what MOOCs are, it’s too early to worry about hardened positive or negative perceptions around your involvement in the experiment. Perceptions are still fluid. You, as a de facto MOOC pioneer, would be able to lead the conversation. Decide what you want the world to think about your MOOC involvement (or not) and tell your story.
  • The institution is not obligated to offer MOOCs. Although many institutions are on board, there’s still only modest overall favorability for MOOCs. Thirty-seven (37) percent of the Americans we surveyed think it’s a good idea for colleges to offer MOOCs, and 26 percent think it’s a bad idea. The rest have no opinion or are undecided even after hearing a neutral description of MOOCs.
  • Be straightforward about MOOC commitment. Why you do something is actually more important to people than what you do or how you do it. Are MOOCs philanthropy for you? Marketing? Potential revenue-generators? All of the above? Our number one research takeaway is this: communicate why you’re doing MOOCs or, if necessary, why you’re not. Addressing MOOCs head on will keep you relevant. And your story should always be more about the student than the institution, the experience more than the infrastructure, and the content more than the methodology.

Enjoy our data and let us know if you’d like to discuss this in depth. In the meantime, what do you think of MOOCs? Will the utopian vision prevail?