The potential social, economic and environmental benefits of MOOCs: operational and historical comparisons with a massive ‘closed online’ course

Andy Lane, Sally Caird, Martin Weller


Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) have recently become a much discussed development within higher education. Much of this debate focuses on the philosophical and operational similarities and differences between the types of MOOCs that have emerged to date, the learner completion rates and how they can be sustained. In contrast there has been much less discussion about how such courses do, or do not, fit in with existing higher education policy and practice in terms of the social, economic and environmental benefits. This paper begins to address this issue by comparing and contrasting current MOOCs with one large population ICT-enhanced, mostly online Open University UK course presented a decade earlier and how they have both served, or might serve, broader social, economic or environmental objectives. The paper concludes that while MOOCs are forcing a re-conceptualisation of higher education study, much can also be learned from previous and existing large population mainly online courses from open universities.


MOOCs, policy and practice, environmental impact

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