A Finished Dissertation – MOOC Pasts & Futures

After nearly two years of intense study, scholarship and research, my dissertation The Evolution & Impact of the Massive Open Online Course has been published to ProQuest (though I am sharing it via Scribd, as ProQuest is not always the easiest for open access).  The project, undertaken at the dawn of the meteoric rise of the Year of the MOOC, attempts to pinpoint the MOOC as a phenomenon and said phenomenon within how society views/ed education in 2014.    This included a substantial literature review that utilized critical theory to offer an alternative to the dominant narrative of educational progress:  analysis as well as critique of the dominant narrative of education’s history and historical purpose, a focus on the role of artificial intelligence in the shaping of education systems, and critiques of status quo systems and arguments from the perspective of historically marginalized voices.

The findings in the Delphi study can be viewed in a multitude of fashions; I chose two specifically:  the Likert scale answers to the prompts provided the expert panel, and critical analysis of expert answers looking at the issues behind the answers provided.  From the view of the Likert the results were mixed:  there was consensus on 4 of 12 prompts (faith in learning analytics, distance/online education not void of expertise, MOOCs are not the great solution for democratizing education, MOOCs could allow for tier-based educational opportunities), and a great deal of resistance on many of the remaining eight.  There was surprise in how consensus was achieved; I was not only surprised that experts agreed in the first round about the potential of big data, but was also surprised it took two rounds to agree that the field of distance and online education was a space with expertise.  

Most interesting from my perspective was the manner in which conversation eschewed the specific prompts.  Over three rounds, there was a significant discussion around existing educational structures utilizing the same mannerisms as machine learning, a shift away from contemporary learning theory to computer science theory.  Moreover, experts had more difficulty agreeing on basic education terms (such as data or student) while the panel came to early consensus on business and technological jargon such as disruption and learning analytics.  Also, it was impossible to remove economic factors from any points of discussion.  Over the long term, I believe these takeaways will parallel the movement of education discourse in society.

In the short term, it is interesting to see how issues behind some of the prompts that were less engaged by experts are at the forefront of existing debate.  Most notably is Richard Levin’s statement that the goal of MOOCs is less about learner impact and more about university reach, a theme addressed in the Delphi study (10 #imperialism) and largely discredited, though not to a point of consensus.  One expert said that imperialism was a “lazy argument” because anyone could create a MOOC, which while technically correct misses the social and cultural issues at play in this EdTech space, a space where the power players seem more interested in branding and influence than in democratizing education.  I will be interested to see how other prompts w/o consensus play out in the months ahead.

Where do I go from here?  I am expanding beyond All MOOCs; this blog was spurred by my dissertation, so while its completion does not mean the end of the blog it does mean my energies will go in more places.  Most interesting to me about the MOOC phenomenon is not the MOOC itself but what the MOOC says about education, culture and society.  There is a philosophical element to education that is largely ignored in its practice; philosophers have spent millennia seeking to understand knowledge but our science of how knowledge happens rarely engages such thought.  The MOOC is a truly unique happening in the history of education, and it should be understood as such and analyzed from a myriad of positions, instrumental as well as social and philosophical.  If we fail to understand why the MOOC happened and why the MOOC experienced more hype and attention than other education missives we will fail to properly track the continuing course of education in society and be able to better advocate for and influence its future.

7 thoughts on “A Finished Dissertation – MOOC Pasts & Futures

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