Digital learning in the UK: sociological reflections on an unequal marketplace

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Focusing on the UK context, and drawing on freely available information about online learning and the underlying commercial agreements between institutions, Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms and Online Program Management (OPM) companies, this article shows how digitization and universities' global expansion strategies are involved in forms of transnational marketization. In particular, the article shows that the online learning marketplace in the UK shows signs of segmentation, with 'premium' offerings in the high-to-middle tier targeting socially advantaged students-as-consumers, and a bottom region of low-ranking institutions drifting towards low-grade 'unbundled' provision that targets middle-to-low income groups. The article argues that the current global landscape of online education is a shifting, unequal market place, and that more research is needed on how different groups from a range of socio-economic backgrounds successfully or unsuccessfully navigate an increasingly fragmented and 'unbundled' educational terrain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number170
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Sciences
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • Marketization
  • MOOCs
  • Online learning
  • Online Program Management
  • Unbundling

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