Pay less, lose all

January 31, 2013

In the debate about the competition between massive open online courses (Moocs), conventional universities and online/distance education, we should take output into account (“Coursera founder: Mooc credits aren’t the real deal”, News, 24 January).

The graduation rates of conventional and online/distance education in the UK are very different: according to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, at the former they are around 82 per cent; at the best of the latter, The Open University, the figure is about 22 per cent.

This “distance education deficit” is even more marked elsewhere: for example, the US’ University of Phoenix (part of the Apollo Group, owners of BPP University College) has an online programme with a graduation rate of 4 per cent. With Moocs that offer some form of assessment, the figures are often in the region of 10 per cent for single courses; for a set of courses leading to graduation, the rate will be even smaller.

So while the investment cost of distance education or Mooc qualifications is much less than conventional degrees, the risk of totally losing that investment is much higher. When comparing these different routes, it is vital to look at the costs, benefits and - above all - risks.

Ormond Simpson, Visiting fellow, University of London Centre for Distance Education.

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