I finally got around to reading Mike Boxall’s overview of the MOOC movement in UK’s The Guardian, and I’m glad that I waited to read it until after solidifying a definition of disruptive technology. Boxall’s article is one of the few mainstream MOOC articles that limits hype and alludes to big questions (I’ll get more into that in a moment, but I’ve noticed that the big question about education everyone keeps referring to has not been spelled out; it’s kind of like Douglas Adams’ answer to the question of Life, The Universe & Everything in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). And his look at whether or not MOOCs will be disruptive has made me wrestle with my newfound disruptive definition.
I’ll start with Boxall quoting Stanford President John Hennessey as calling the MOOC movement a digital tsunami in education, and saying how this disruptive technology will change education in a way similar to how technology changed music or journalism (#cfhe12). When reading Christensen’s article, I was so focused on his words I did not think about how they apply to some of the monumental changes that have happened over the past 20 years due to technology’s emergence. The most noteworthy for me is the demise of print news. Clay Shirky wrote a fantastic article about it back in 2009, the gist of which was that the old vanguard did not see the world of BBS and MOOs having anything to do with the sacred ritual of the newspaper or magazine. For anyone investing in the MOOC movement, this is grist for the mill; a societal institution brought down because there was a desire for content, an ability to publish it, and a system that did not understand that search would replace branding for the most part. The closure of magazines, reduction of newspaper staff and issues, and the focus in online reporting from new sources has changed the way people interact with information, and while the main news sources are still working to incorporate social media and citizen journalism into their wares, it still comes off as lip service. As profit became more important in the scheme of news media and the proliferation of cost-effective communication sources more ubiquitous, trained journalists took the fall. Of course, that simple narrative leaves out the increased role of news wire services for state and local stories, as well as the demise of the local paper to national media conglomerates, two events that changed the relationship between subscribers and producers.
And just a quick note on Shirky, who keynoted Educause 2012 this past week. He sees the future of education not in the MOOC model but in the open one, and while the MOOC acronym has Open as part of it, it’s a different kind of open (open the gates to look in) versus the open of the open access/source movement (use it as you please and, by all means, experiment with it). Interactivity of that nature does not yet exist for the xMOOC, as the interactive elements are all based on pre-conceived actions and reactions.
I still have reservations about MOOCs being a disruptive force on higher education, in part because higher education is an institution with a societal effect greater than content learned in lecture. The newspaper was about more than local city meetings and sports scores, however, and its demise was quick. Of course, the newspaper’s demise was multi-faceted, even if we remove the role of globalization and profiteering and focus just on the structure of the paper:
- Craigslist replacing the newspaper classified section
- Real-time weather information replacing the weather section
- League-specific websites dedicated to extensive sports coverage to replace a sports section (as well as numerous outlets for niche sports)
- Online shopping replacing Sunday coupons and sale advertising
If MOOCs could sufficiently replace classroom instruction, there would need to be other disruptive technology in the works to offset the other aspects of higher education: academic research and publishing, collegiate athletics, production and showcase of emerging and local arts, community philanthropy and development, social networking, and even something as abstract as the college experience. The news media did not wither because bloggers published their work for free; they lost because of a great deal of advances in the realm of technology that specifically affected their product. xMOOCs, at this point, free the lecture from the $$ institution and provide a structure and general map for students to follow. There is a parallel to the work of Bob Woodward being freed from the Washington Post, but education and learning is much more than knowledge/content, whereas journalism is just that. So while the manner in which xMOOC developers see their creation as a disruptive technology, that viewpoint more and more looks like one ignorant of education as a discipline involving a great deal more than the passing of knowledge. Of course, if xMOOCs are a disruptive technology, then it might not matter if what they do has less horsepower than the existing establishment, because people will look to it to suit their given needs (even if it’s only a short-term gain) and buy-in based on those variables rather than the more ethereal ones associated with academic pursuit.