The Guardian [UK] has this article extolling the virtues of MOOCs, and asking the trenchant question, “is this the end of traditional classsroom education?” For those familiar with the field, there’s nothing groundbreaking or new here, and by no means does the author answer his own question. Rather, he breathlessly extols the virtues of these massively online courses:
they’re typically free, broadening access to a global audience and to everyone but the very poor;
they’re diverse (dozens of universities and private consortiums have gotten in on the act);
they’re collaborative, as students jam up the chat boards assisting one another;
Education, like information, just wants to be free. Some hiccups along the way include:
poor completion rates: of the 200,000 students who signed up for Sebastian Thrun’s AI class via Stanford, only 16,000 finished it. While 16k course graduates is nothing to sneeze at, that’s a success rate of 8%.
questionable accreditation: if the online course features the same content as the classroom course, why does the former earn a certificate and the latter compelled to continue with additional coursework? The article cites companies such as Google as “taking these certificates seriously.” What I see is a voc-tech type of spot education system in which companies can compel its workers to enroll.
Chaos in those chatrooms: I recently took an online course that operated on a much smaller scale, and it was very challenging to find even basic pieces of information. Now multiply that by a factor of 40, and I envision students wasting a lot of time looking for resources and answers versus actually learning the material, the digital needle lost in the online haystack.
Academic content in the hands of private companies: I certainly have my share of issues with higher education, but they’ve at least make a show of trying to be fair and equitable. As economics increasingly drive education, expect some subjects — those subjects valuable to Google, for instance — to get the lion’s share of the resources. If humanities are seriously taught via MOOCs in 50 to 100 years, I’ll eat my top hat.
It’s clear that MOOCs now rule the roost, and less because they (education and learning) want to be free, but because they (universities and companies eager to jump on the bandwagon) are eager to scale up their intellectual holdings, cut staff and supporting resources, maybe even sell off a campus building or two since it’s no longer in use.