Free online courses are part of the "democratisation" of universities, whereby students - and not the custodians of elaborate ranking systems - will determine the best places to learn, according to Open Universities Australia chief Paul Wappett.
Mr Wappett visited the University of Wollongong yesterday for the launch of UOW's first MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses - developed in-house by academics and offered free to whoever wants to take up the modules via Youtube.
UOW has chosen Open2Study - the MOOCs arm of Open Universities Australia - to partner in the new venture, which will begin with a four-week course on common diseases on November 18.
Open2Study was launched in March and has since provided courses to 100,000 participants, via 14 partner universities and TAFEs.
It boasts a course completion rate of almost 30 per cent, compared to the 7-9 per cent average among many bigger providers, and also offers partners access to data analytics showing how students respond to the teachings.
Mr Wappett said universities were increasingly mindful of taking their teachings beyond the traditional campus lecture theatres.
Courses are given away for free, but do not count as credit towards a degree. Universities stand to benefit by showcasing the teaching abilities of their academics, and by reaching new students, Mr Wappett said.
"Universities already have these elaborate ranking systems, but most of them are based on research outputs," he said.
"I think what we're going to see is students are going to determine which are best for teaching and learning. Teaching was once a very private thing, and unless you were in the classroom you didn't get access. There's a democratisation happening."
The common diseases MOOC will be delivered by Dr Kylie Mansfield and Associate Professor Lyndal Parker-Newlyn from UOW's Graduate School of Medicine and - covering diabetes, heart burn, the common cold and blood pressure - is expected to appeal to the broader community.
UOW's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) Professor Eeva Leinonen said the course would be split into four-week modules, each covering four topics and including a short video, with a quiz at the end of each topic and online forums.
Law of the sea expert Professor Stuart Kaye will deliver UOW's second MOOC early next year, covering aquatic environmental vandalism and modern-day piracy on the high seas.
The course, supported by researchers Dr Chris Rahman and Dr Mary Ann Palma, is expected to attract more specialised interest among lawyers and other professionals with an interest in ocean governance and environmental protection.