“Everybody should be afraid of MOOCs”

April 5, 2013 at 1:09 am 1 comment

“MOOC-phobia” — I’m enjoying all the MOOCterms that are getting invented to explain these new phenomena.

“There’s a distinction that people often don’t make,” said Professor Thrun, “which is whether these classes reach existing students and take away business, or whether they reach new students and add to the business?”

While that question is being answered, MOOC-phobia continues to spread. Last year, the University Professional and Continuing Education Association entitled its annual conference “Resilience.” This year’s event is called “Disruption 2.0.”

“Everybody should be afraid of MOOCs,” said Gary W. Matkin, dean of continuing education, distance learning and summer session at the University of California, Irvine, “although there are some that should be more afraid than others.”

via Colleges Assess Cost of Free Online-Only Courses – NYTimes.com.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. rdm  |  April 5, 2013 at 9:48 am

    That strikes me as unreasonable. You might as well say “everyone should be afraid of libraries although there are some that should be more afraid of others.”

    Now, if they were directing their rhetoric towards specific social constructs surrounding MOOCs, that might make sense. But, as it is, I think they’ve assumed a specific context and overgeneralized. The risk, here, is that they will be utterly dismissed by people with different experiences – people whose context and understanding for MOOC conflicts with this kind of rhetoric. In other words: the people involved in successful cases [for whatever local definition of success they are using, which might easily have to do with learning something new and useful instead of course completion].

    In a way, this debate is similar to debates surrounding “trade colleges” which are typically inferior to traditional universities, though not always. A difference, though, is that MOOCs, instead of favoring a industrial trade, favor a topic, and the people most likely to succeed in a current MOOC context are the superlative students – the same people targeted by the most reputable schools and then filtered by slightly arbitrary testing and financing requirements.

    Another issue is that MOOC is really a reference to a media, and not any single technique. It’s entirely plausible that valid educational techniques might use this media. For example, it might be possible to recognize skilled tutors among the audience, and reward them based on the help they lend others. Gamification and network effects could be useful here.

    For example, status rewards and testing and agreement mechanisms might be used to give students hints about their rate of progress.

    To make this profitable, the MOOC might of course use traditional payment mechanisms ranging from sales fees for advertised media to simple advertising or product presentation. However, all of these risk removing the emphasis from the subject being taught and placing it instead on the fiscal issues.

    Another profit mechanism might instead ask the students to solve some real problem – perhaps a research issue, perhaps something relevant to some industrial context. Conceptually, there’s no end of problems to be solved, though the class focus would drift over time. Still, recorded media from earlier classes could also be maintained (for example, if the class were published on youtube).

    Yet another sustainment mechanism would be a donation system, where successful alumni are given the option of contributing on behalf of future students. The MOOC advantage here is that MOOCs can build a huge audience of alumni. This mechanism will tend to favor subjects that are [for whatever reason] associated with successful alumni.

    From an educational point of view, perhaps a mix of profit/sustainable teaching mechanisms would be best – it’s perhaps never wise to put all of one’s eggs in a single basket.

    Still, it’s probably also worth recognizing that some MOOCs are likely to fail and many people will confuse instances of MOOCs with the general case. Failures can and should be a useful learning exercise, but not everyone sees them that way, for many people failures are just miserable.


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