Eventually “all learning is going to happen digitally”, according to Jeff Maggioncalda, the chief executive of online learning platform Coursera.
But Mr Maggioncalda was not rehearsing the tired trope that massive open online courses offered by the likes of Coursera will drive traditional universities out of business. Instead, he was predicting that learning on university campuses will increasingly take place online over the next five to 10 years.
“The boundaries between online and on campus will blur together, and they already are,” he told Times Higher Education. “Students will sit in the classroom on computers, interacting, asking questions and taking notes. It’s a much more engaging interactive learning session.”
Mr Maggioncalda highlighted how the universities of Leeds and Illinois already offered Coursera Moocs to campus-based students.
“People are using them as a more effective textbook,” he said.
Mr Maggioncalda, who replaced former Yale University president Rick Levin at the top of Coursera last year, also predicted significant increases in the use of communication technology such as two-way video and data analytics to personalise digital learning, and make it more flexible.
Where learning would increasingly shift from university campuses to online platforms, Mr Maggioncalda said, was in the area of lifelong learning.
“In the future, lifelong learning is going to be a necessity,” he argued, since, as automation becomes more prevalent, jobs will be made obsolete and workers will require new skills. “People will be scrambling to upgrade themselves,” Mr Maggioncalda said.
Mr Maggioncalda said the “most intense version of this” was taking place in India, where there is a huge population with many people working in industries at risk of automation. “The rate of growth of Coursera in India is higher than in almost every other country, though in Latin America we have very high growth rates as well,” he said. “In some developing countries it is Darwinian: learn or lose your job.”
He added: “People need to get new skills and in my view people will get them increasingly online because they cannot move their families to campus and pay high tuition.”
Coursera’s strategy is to offer more online degrees. The California-based platform recently announced that it was offering its first degrees from UK universities, a new public health master’s from Imperial College London, as well as a computer science bachelor’s from the University of London. “We currently offer four with six more coming, but ultimately will have hundreds,” Mr Maggioncalda said.
Mr Maggioncalda also predicted that degrees would increasingly be divided into micro-credentials. As the idea of lifelong learning takes hold, “you will be able to earn parts of degrees, maybe just the part you want then, and come back later”, he said.
Mr Maggioncalda concluded: “The university degree isn’t going to go away but it will evolve.”