The digital world is rapidly growing, turning old traditions and the tangible into virtual experiences. It happened to books, music and now several believe higher education is headed in the same direction. FutureLearn, an online educational platform, is the first large British company to launch onto Moocs, a directory of online courses from several providers all over the world. Moocs have been described as a revolutionary tool that has the potential to abolish global poverty. Thomas Friedman, New York Times' columnist, is among the hype when he said that nothing "has more potential to lift people out of poverty." Simon Nelson, who has been appointed head of the British profit-making company, strongly believes that "there's tens of millions in the UK who'll be interested in what we offer and the international audience is enormous." Being a young company of just 11 months, it already has an impressive 450,000 learners studying courses from 40 leading universities, including 10 that are international.
FutureLearn has also been at the forefront of several of criticisms, with many claiming platforms like this will force huge numbers of higher education lecturers out of work, a similar story to those that worked in journalism and other industries that have digitalised. Furthermore, figures show that several students who are taking these online courses are people who already have a degree and thus, the platform serves true benefit to those already advantaged. Nelson defends these criticisms by commenting that online education providers all offer something that's unique to them; it would be highly unlikely that the industry would develop into a 'winner-takes-all-market'. He continues by saying that he is, "very sanguine that the majority [do] have degrees. We're offering demanding courses from leading universities. But that said, 30% don't have a degree, which is quite a large number."
Several elite universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard have yet to join in with the e-learning courses as a means to protect their exclusivity. These online courses may offer opportunities to those wanting to learn for self-knowledge, but they will struggle to compete with the high status of the elite institutions.