The news today about the development of a UK Higher Education-led MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), (reported by a lot of the media this morning, including these reports from the BBC and THE), made me start to think about what were the implications for academic libraries of this new model.  At the moment details of exactly what will be offered by the MOOC are obviously sketchy but you’d expect them to be short-courses, extracted from existing university courses, probably not credit-bearing, but what element of library services, if any, might be involved or impacted by this development?

I’m thinking that there are three broad elements of library services: access to physical library services; access to library-procured resources; and access to library skills training.  I’d thought originally that library help services might be something separate but on reflection I think that helpdesk-type services are there (much like the technology) as a way of supporting those three services.  I’d suggest that there are also two aspects: what element of those services might be part of a MOOC ‘offer’ and what might the impact be on HE libraries of the new model on what is ‘core’ business.

What might the library ‘offer’ be for a MOOC?
Physical access to library premises, with IT access etc seems unlikely to be included I’d suggest.  That, and something like the SCONUL access scheme would seem to me to be something that is the differentiation from the current ‘paid-for’ model.

When it comes to access to content, then I’d think that these are internet-courses, but will they need access to library resources?  Will there be any element that requires access to academic textbooks?, ebooks, online journals for example.  Or will everything be contained in the course itself or simply rely on open resources?   Access to library-procured resources requires the student to meet certain eligibility criteria.  Interestingly is a limited company, so students signing up for courses would presumably not be counted as students of participating institutions, so wouldn’t have access to those subscribed resources.  Another point of differentiation.  So the material selected for the courses would need limited library resource access requirements, either because material is written specifically for the course, or maybe because material will be licensed for open access and embedded into the course materials, or the courses rely on open materials.

Skills is an interesting area.  One of the area of skills development that libraries spend considerable time on, is helping students learn how to access library resources, how to avoid plagiarism, and how to function in the modern technological world through Information Literacy and Digital Literacy.   But MOOC students probably aren’t going to be undertaking independent study if they can’t access academic library resources. And if they aren’t using academic resources they won’t be learning to reference/cite them, so that makes doing plagiarism activities more unlikely.  But teaching Digital Literacy skills (such as this Being Digital site, which is already openly available), could be part of the typical library offer to MOOC students.

What are the implications of MOOCs for ‘core’ library services
I’d expect that part of the thinking of MOOCs is that they act as a taster for HE and encourage students to sign up for ‘paid-for’ Higher Education who wouldn’t previously have done so.  So that implies that they might encourage more adult learners and people with fewer formal qualifications, boosting the numbers of widening participation students.  For libraries that potentially implies a need to spend more time on induction and orientation to get those students ready for studying at degree level.  It might require libraries to think more carefully about the way they design systems to find library resources.   Conversely it might take some ‘hobby’-type students out of the existing system (although increases in fees might already have an impact on that).

If MOOCs really take-off in a big way, they might make a very big change to the way education works and libraries might need to be thinking carefully about how they provide for that transition from MOOC-studies to formal HE study.  It will be interesting to see how this develops