The massive open online course (MOOC) innovation has generated remarkable momentum and interest, but has received scant attention in the literature. The innovation is surrounded by uncertainty, particularly with respect to its possible implications for the higher education industry and its various stakeholder groups. This paper addresses a gap in the academic literature and assesses the disruptive potential of the MOOC innovation in the context of the higher education industry. Through analysis of emerging evidence with respect to disruptive innovation theory, it evaluates the MOOC innovation against the following three archetypal ex-ante characteristics and early marketplace behaviours of disruptive innovations: 1) reconiguration of value delivery along performance dimensions relative to mainstream oferings; 2) entry into a new or low-end market; and 3) ability to improve to the point of mainstream market acceptance. It concludes that whilst the MOOC innovation seemingly embodies these three archetypal ex-ante characteristics and early marketplace behaviours that imply its disruptive potential, the realisation of any such potential is likely to be constrained by its innovators – incumbent higher education institutions – which appear to be pursuing MOOCs with intent to sustain their current businesses, rather than to disrupt them.