Are MOOCs the answer?

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

Worth Reposting….


For those who don’t know, Clay Shirky talks and writes about the Interwebs. He’s faculty @ NYU . He likes to make predictions about the future.

He’s now claiming that Higher Education is being disrupted by MOOCs.

Udacity and its peers try to answer some new questions, questions that the traditional academy – me and my people – often don’t even recognise as legitimate, like “How do we spin up 10,000 competent programmers a year, all over the world, at a cost too cheap to meter?”

Udacity may or may not survive, but as with Napster, there’s no containing the story it tells: “It’s possible to educate a thousand people at a time, in a single class, all around the world, for free.”

Once you imagine educating a thousand people in a single class, it becomes clear that open courses, even in their nascent state, will be able to raise quality and improve certification faster than traditional institutions can lower cost or increase enrolment.

Now, I do believe that formal education is broken, but the problem is NOT that we can’t “educate” sufficient numbers. The biggest problem is precisely the thing that Shirky seems to be claiming will solve the problem – the “massification” of education. Education is not, and should never be a “business”, folks. And a university education is (or should be) more about growing up and learning to be than about the “content”. If all you are getting out of school is “content”, then, by all means, don’t bother with college. If THAT is all that your college can offer you, find a different college.


From David Kernohan‘s article:

To think that all a university experience can be is a bunch of lectures and some essay questions. To think that the availablity of a new format that suits some peoples needs a bit better means that nothing else is viable. To think that a degree is something that you purchase and experience, not something you work for with a great degree of pain and personal change.

The needs that MOOCs satisfy are the needs of a bunch of middle-aged men (and it is – nearly – always men) who are comfortably tenured but seek the thrill of being on the cutting edge of technology and “innovation” (whatever that is – looks to me like inventiveness with all the fun sucked out of it). They make for great TED talks. Wonderful blog posts. But they are nothing more than a surface solution to the surface problems a non-specialist observer could see in higher education.

The problems Higher Education does face is that it is a marketplace when it doesn’t need to be. We spend billions of dollars forcing universities to compete without any evidence whatsoever that this leads to a better or cheaper product. We spend more on HE than at any point in our history whilst departments are closing, services are withering and talented young academics are leaving in droves because they have reached their mid 30s without finding anything other than temporary hourly-paid work.


University is about more than training people for today’s jobs. It’s supposed to be about educating people for their future, whatEVER that may hold.


p.s. I got news for you – “spinning up” COMPETENT programmers takes a whole lot more than teaching them how to write code.


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