The Unsustainable MOOCiversity

February 26, 2013 at 1:24 am 6 comments

I have a post-it on my monitor with a quote from Alan Kay: “You can fix a clock, but you have to negotiate with a system.”  I was reminded of that in reading the below essay.  I have been worried about the sustainability of the (lack of a) revenue model for MOOCs, but this essay goes further.  If we destroy the universities, who makes the next generation of MOOCs?  There are ramifications of the changes that are being proposed for using MOOCs as a replacement for our current higher education system.

Failing to account for, and pay for, the continuation and reproduction of a necessary system isn’t economic rationality; it isn’t a hard-nosed commitment to making the tough choices; it’s the exact opposite. It’s living as if there is no future, no need to reproduce the systems we have now for the future generations who will eventually need them. The fantasy that we could MOOCify education this year to save money on professor labor next year, and gain a few black lines in the budget, ignores the obvious need for a higher educational system that will be able to update, replenish, and sustain the glorious MOOCiversity when that time inevitably comes. Who is supposed to develop all the new and updated MOOCs we’ll need in two, five, ten, twenty years, in response to events and discoveries and technologies we cannot yet imagine? Who is going to moderate the discussion forums, grade the tests, answer questions from the students? In what capacity and under what contract terms will these MOOC-updaters and MOOC-runners be employed? By whom? Where will they have received their training, and how will that training have been paid for? What is the business model for the MOOC — not this quarter, but this decade, this century?

via Some Preliminary Theses on MOOCs « Gerry Canavan.

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It’s not disruption of Higher Education – it’s privatization NYC to teach computer science and software engineering in 20 schools

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dr John N Sutherland  |  February 26, 2013 at 5:47 am

    In my field, Applied Computing, all knowledge is ephemeral in application, so online notes as worthless after a few months anyhoo. We are producing not quite prawn sandwiches, but not far off!

  • 2. Lex Spoon  |  February 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    It’s of course a good question.

    As one possible bright light, note that Rosetta Stone seems to do well in the area of mass-market education. Their prices are hefty compared to what self-taughts are used to–several hundred dollars per language, compared to free visits to Wikipedia. They seem to get plenty of customers, however.

    I wonder what Rosetta’s completion rate is. I would bet on it being well south of 50%.

    • 3. Don Davis  |  February 27, 2013 at 9:05 am

      I remember recently reading that Rosetta Stone wasn’t all that helpful. I found this unsurprising as a bulk of my academic and professional experience is in second language acquisition. Tying in with this conversation of MOOCs, Rosetta Stone highlights some of the aspects that online courses will not (and perhaps cannot) overcome. I’ve also seen it’s adoption as evidence of how decision makers will choose a shiny package over good sense.

  • 4. nickfalkner  |  February 26, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    All good questions and a core part of the ‘measure twice, cut once’ approach that works well anytime you are making irreversible cuts to a finite source of material.

  • […] of computing education and professor at Georgia Tech University, wrote a blog entry “The Unsustainable MOOCiversity.” Guzdial argues that there will be no professors to teach if there are no longer […]

  • […]  The pushback is interesting and reflects some of the issues that have been raised about sustainability of online education as a replacement for face-to-face learning or even as an additional […]


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