What is a MOOC? The answer is - a Massive Open Online Course. Wikipedia defines a MOOC as: "an online course aiming at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web". But the key thing about Moocs is - they are huge, they are growing unbelievably fast - and they are free.
In the 2012 TED talk shown above, Stanford University professor Daphne Koller explains what MOOCs are and what they mean for the future of education. The answer is, nothing short of a complete revolution.
Imagine a world in which you can do an entire online degree, with the finest professors in the world, including lectures, grading and accreditation - absolutely free. That world is not in the future - it is here now.
The astonishing fact is that technology is changing the face of education at an frantic rate. And the oddest thing is - most university professors don't even know about it. Ask your tutors about MOOCs - most of them will - at best - give you a quizzical stare.
Followers of this blog will already know about Salman Khan and the Khan Academy. Sal Khan is seeking to bring knowledge to people all over the world for free. His big idea is to "flip the classroom" - watch the lectures at home on your own time, then come in to class to do the homework.
We're applying these principles here at Bucks, trying to squeeze the most we can out of the limited "contact time" in the classroom, and trying to make sure that we automate whatever we can, freeing up time in the classroom for productive one-on-one teaching and tutorials.
But MOOCs are different from what Sal Khan has pioneered. Unlike the Khan Academy, which students can dip in and out of at any time, MOOCs represent a structured online school with start dates, due dates and grades - just like a real University. But online. And free.
So how can universities compete, if education is going to be given away for nothing? The answer is, we have to get better, and smarter. We need to automate as much as we can, passing the cost savings on to our students and working to make our courses as good as they can be, adding value at every stage, to make sure we compete successfully with online content.
What we must not do is pretend that this is a passing fad, a gimmick that will go away if we ignore it. Just like the people who said 15 years ago: "Who wants to buy a book online? Book shops are so much nicer".
Now, more than ever, students want value for money - and Universities will have to give it, or face extinction.