Universities must embrace digital learning or face losing out to competitors, according to the head of the UK’s massive open online course platform.
FutureLearn chief executive Simon Nelson said that, while the campus-based degree would “always have its place”, there was “no room for complacency”.
In a lecture to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), he argued that institutions that did not grasp the potential of online learning would be overtaken by rival providers.
“Universities need to recognise that though the prize may today seem tiny next to their core business, things are only going in one direction,” Mr Nelson said. “The sooner they go through the organisational pain of putting digital first in every area, the sooner leadership can be established in a rapidly changing market.”
Mr Nelson claimed that Moocs were “finally moving into mainstream activity”, citing FutureLearn research that found that 5 per cent of UK adults had taken part in a short online course and that another 5 per cent planned to do so in the next 12 months.
The same study found that around half of employers considered online courses to be a differentiating factor when hiring, and more said that they expected to include them in their decision-making in future.
Mr Nelson said that a key priority was to improve the online user experience, warning that “the state of most learning management systems is verging on embarrassing in the face of the smartphone generation” and that “grainy footage of an hour-long lecture, filmed from the back of the lecture hall, just won’t cut it”.
“As in the 1960s, the ‘white heat’ of revolution will be no place for outdated methods or restrictive practices,” Mr Nelson concluded. “This requires us to work together, embrace change and meet the changing needs of learners around the world.”