Thoughts from a reflective educator.
What would a university look like where every course was open and accessible to any interested student?
The whole reason we'd use a brick and mortar institution is to attempt to preserve as much of the structures of universities which are vital, in my opinion, to their position in our democracies. For example, I see universities as places where people with very different ideologies meet (and often conflict) and in online institutions, I think differing world views are quite often siloed from each other.
Imagine a place where students could drop in and attend lectures, learn how to use lab equipment, and access learning materials on demand, rather than on the administrative schedule of the university. Students would pay a flat fee to attend the university, rather than paying per course. The onus would be on the student to attend classes, and as many of them as they like, and as often as they like.
Students could meet with faculty advisors who could help them chart a course through the university. They could submit assignments to an assessment centre (digitally) which could give them feedback on their thinking. Students could use the information given to them by the assessment centres to guide their learning. As the students submit assignments and demonstrate mastery of concepts or skills, they could receive digital badges indicating mastery in a certain area. Collect enough badges, and you get certification. Collect more, and you get the equivalent of a degree. If a student failed to complete a degree, they could likely still demonstrate mastery of a subset of concepts.
The pace through the university could be self-directed by the student. Instead of focusing on the "four year degree," students could focus on mastery learning, and emerge from the university based on how much they've accomplished, rather than how long they've attended.
Students could move from a course which is too difficult for them to one that is more appropriate to their background without the expensive surcharges many universities use to discourage this practice. Courses could be structured to open on continuously enrollment, and given a large enough campus, Calculus 100 could start fresh every week. If a student attempts week 1 of Calculus 100 and doesn't get it, they could try it again, perhaps with a different instructor, or with more support, instead of having to wait until the end of the semester to restart the course.
Students could transfer between similar university systems using their badges as evidence of learning, rather than transcripts. Essentially, their assessments of their learning would be their transcripts rather than uncertain standards between different instructors.
While there are obviously some issues with this idea (I can think of a half-dozen objections to it off the top of my head), I'd be interested to hear how we could extend it.