4 minute read  written by  . Published on May 7, 2018

What will university education be like ten to fifteen years from now? One Mexican university isn’t waiting to find out. Tecnológico de Monterrey (or Tec Monterrey, as it’s sometimes called) created a division, called Teclabs, whose task is to both anticipate and create the future of higher education. By keeping tabs on innovations within higher education, Teclabs identifies threats and opportunities in the space. The group uses this information to develop, run, and evaluate pilot programs.

We have learned that is possible to deliver a high-quality education at scale.  

Among its projects, Teclabs produces MOOCs for the university. Tec Monterrey has produced 42 courses, for platforms including Coursera, edX, and MexicoX; on subjects spanning business, the humanities, science, and engineering. More courses are in the works and will be released soon.

Class Central recently spoke with Jose Escamilla, Director of Teclabs, and Julien DePauw, who leads MOOC projects for the university. As we learned, MOOCs are not a one-off for Tec Monterrey. Rather, they are part of Teclabs’ integrated effort to prepare for the future of higher education.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How would you describe what Teclabs does?

Teclabs’ objective is to identify how higher education will be in 2030, whatever it becomes. To that end, we do three things: we observe trends, threats, and opportunities; we carry out projects to figure out what higher education will be like; and we do research to evaluate education projects. We also have internal funding – around $800,000 each year – to fund projects from our faculty. Recently, we launched our first round of funding through our new ed tech accelerator. We think it’s a good idea to take a stake in some innovative companies, especially as the private sector starts trying to disrupt the system.

Teclabs EdTech Accelerator

What can you tell us about your MOOC students?

Since 2013, we have had more than 700,000 students. On Coursera, a majority of our students are women. Also on Coursera, more students are reported as being from Colombia than from Mexico. We’re not sure that these numbers are completely accurate since students don’t have to specify where they are from. However, we do know that most of our students are from Latin America.

One challenge we face is awareness. Another is the credibility of online education. And a third is the price 

What do you think are the challenges of working in the MOOC/online learning market in Mexico (or Latin America in general) as compared to the US or overall global market?

As the largest Spanish-speaking country, Mexico is a good market for MOOCs and online learning. One challenge we face is awareness. Another is the credibility of online education. And a third is the price. People who don’t really know much about MOOCs might think that they are completely free. Not everyone knows that, in fact, if you really want a certificate you have to pay something. It’s not a large amount of money, but it can be a barrier. Given that many countries in Latin America are developing countries, people can’t necessarily pay the same amount as in the United States or Europe.

So as you think about education in 2030 and beyond, how will education providers address those challenges?

We see great synergy between boot camps and MOOCs. 

What I see is that in the next 20 years, just in Latin America, the number of people with access to higher education will need to increase by 15 times. We cannot provide that kind of access by doing the same things we’ve always done. Online education at scale is one of the ways to greatly increase access. The other way is with an alternative to the undergraduate degree using boot camps. We see great synergy between boot camps and MOOCs. Imagine a program in which you can do part of the program online and then come for one or two weeks and have an intensive, immersive experience to develop a certain, specific skill. We believe that in the future we will see more of those models. We also think that a very important part of higher education in the next ten years will be flexibility. Online education at scale allows people to have more flexibility to work and study at the same time, with access to less expensive education.

How are online classes currently integrated into the curriculum at Tec Monterrey?

All of our undergraduate degrees are full time, on-campus degrees. That means we have 54,000 undergraduate students that are all full time, all face-to-face. But every year we have 30,000 enrollments in our online, for-credit courses. We believe we have to offer that flexibility to our students. We also believe that it is important to prepare our students for a future in which most of their skills development after graduation will be through online learning. Therefore, we encourage our students to take at least two online courses before graduating.

How have MOOCs specifically helped Teclabs to anticipate what higher education will be like in 2030?

We have learned that is possible to deliver a high-quality education at scale. There is a need in the world for this type of education. Some people are looking for very specific credentials, and they are ready to develop those skills online.