Tag Archives: public good

MOOC Hype & Hesitance – Excerpts from MOOC Research

Note: I will use this space over the next month to share excerpts from my dissertation The Evolution & Impact of the Massive Open Online Course. The research was a Delphi study bringing together 20 MOOC experts to discuss the MOOC in educational, political, and sociocultural terms (slides from the oral presentation can be seen here). Upon library clearance, the entire document will be available through a Creative Commons license. The following is from Chapter 1, the argument for significance. This excerpt looks at the hype-based MOOC arguments seen in news media, as well as criticisms on the MOOC and its hype.

Much [MOOC] fervor comes from the promise of MOOCs as seen from their developers and the mass media. For these individuals and their adherents, MOOCs hold the potential to transform education (Brooks, 2012; Friedman, 2012; Thrun, 2011).  Viewed as disruptive technology, a technology that provides an established service to an emerging community of users and in doing so revolutionizes the existing community of users (Bowers & Christensen, 1995), MOOCs can provide elite educational experiences to any citizen of the world with access to an Internet-based computer and a willingness to perform the tasks of the course. These supporters see the MOOC as a global agent for the democratization of education, the opportunity to allow students of all races, ages and backgrounds to take classes from the best professors on Earth (Friedman, 2013b) at relatively little or no economic cost to the user.  MOOCs can harness the vast array of the provider’s institutional resources to help transition society from an Industrial Age, goods and services economy to a 21st Century, knowledge-based economy.  From this lens, future students will not be encumbered by the mountains of debt currently plaguing college graduates (Parr, 2013), and the MOOC model will allow an ease of lifelong learning, where individuals can enroll in MOOCs as the needs of their careers change (Hill, 2013a).

Those critical of the MOOC movement see the potential for transformation as a net negative.  The start-up organizations currently organizing and hosting a majority of existing MOOCs have raised tens of millions of dollars from venture capital organizations, and these organizations expect a return on their investment (Veletsianos, 2013a). This privatization of higher education perilously mirrors domestic and international primary education privatization initiatives over the past 30 years, initiatives built around the before-mentioned schools are broken rhetoric, yet those initiatives of the past 30 years have produced at best a negligible improvement in student learning (Mehta, 2013).  This line of thinking views the learning potential of the MOOC as secondary to the opportunity it provides private enterprise to create capital in what was heretofore a public service built on government subsidy and non-profit ideals.

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Defining Edu Terms & MOOC Simulacra

At the heart of the Open Education Resources movement (and the Open movement in general) is the notion that education is a public good.  The progression to such sentiment may be based in a notion that an educated citizenry betters democracy and civic life (folks like John Locke and Thomas Jefferson), or that knowledge and wisdom are non-rivalrous and non-excludable (Econ 101), or that the increase and diffusion of knowledge stimulates societal and cultural growth (James Smithson, John Quincy Adams).  Regardless of its germination, the crux of such thought is that the provision of education from an egalitarian lens results in benefit across the population.

At face value the Massive Open Online Course fits this vision:  courses are free, prerequisites are encouraged but not enforced, and access to the best professors at the best universities is not bound to geography or economics.  And research into the framework of the MOOC points to the opening of university walls, the building of intra- and internet communications and an attempt to promote the increase and diffusion of knowledge for society, whether communal or global.  That’s why it’s worth noting that one of the primary voices in OER, David Wiley, sees the 2013 incarnation of MOOCs as a money grab:

I propose that, whenever you hear the acronym MOOC, you think: “Massively Obfuscated Opportunities for Cash”

How can a MOOC be both a bastion for openness and the epitome of closed content? Continue reading