Are SPOCs the next disruptive movement in education?

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The rapid rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has lit a flame under universities across the world, with many looking to adapt to the changing needs of distance learning. Now there is a new format being introduced with backing that includes Harvard University, an early adopter of the MOOC model.

A partnership between current MOOC provider edX and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley has introduced Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs). It is part of a larger effort to bring the MOOC model to a more certifiable structure with student authentication and more rigorous assessments.

SPOCs are designed to deliver course lessons to a limited capacity of students. Harvard’s Kennedy School of Business plans to release a popular U.S. national security strategy course in the next week, limiting the course to 500 enrollees.

 The BBC’s Education Correspondent Sean Coughlan compared SPOCs to the Russian dolls that sit inside one another, saying “ a single course might now be delivered to a large open MOOC audience, to a much smaller number of SPOC students and then down to an even smaller number enrolled at the bricks-and-mortar campus.”

Only time will tell what impact this has on MOOCs and if any further impact will be felt by traditional higher education institutions.  Professor Robert Lue, head chair of the committee of academics Harvard, said “Institutions that sit back and watch, they may be in trouble.”