Academics and Venture Capitalists: Not close vs open, but evidence vs speculation
Aaron Bady’s essay critiquing Clay Shirky’s take on MOOCs is highly recommended reading (linked below). I bought in to Shirky’s “Udacity is Napster” argument, and I still think that access may trump quality. But Bady really highlights why there is such a distinction in views about MOOCs. The first sentence below is wonderful, both pithy and true. It’s not that MOOCs won’t be wonderful, it’s just that there’s not enough evidence that they will — but venture capitalists and “education disruptors” run on hope, not evidence.
The key difference between academics and venture capitalists, in fact, is not closed versus open but evidence versus speculation. The thing about academics is that they require evidence of success before declaring victory, while venture capitalists can afford to gamble on the odds. While Shirky can see the future revolutionizing in front of us, he is thinking like a venture capitalist when he does, betting on optimism because he can afford to lose. He doesn’t know that he’s right; he just knows that he might not be wrong. And so, like all such educational futurologists, Shirky’s case for MOOCs is all essentially defensive: he argues against the arguments against MOOCs, taking shelter in the possibility of what isn’t, yet, but which may someday be.