The Great MOOC Pushback
Winds of Change Still Blowing Through Groves of Academe

The first generations of MOOCs have serious problems and critics are right to be concerned. But it’s far too early to count them out.

Published on: January 3, 2014
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  • free_agent

    You write, “And for colleges and universities smart enough to surf the waves of
    change rather than lying passively on the beach waiting to be crushed,
    the ride will be thrilling and transformative, rather than horrifying
    and bone-crushing.”

    Very true, but at most 50% of the current professoriat will benefit from that. Not because 50% of them are incompetent, but simply because there won’t be enough seats in the lifeboat for everyone; merely being below-average guarantees doom.

    “While progress makes humanity better off in the long run, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that some people will be permanently worse off for the rest of their lifespan.” — Megan McArdle

  • Philippe Silberzahn

    Thank you for this excellent article. It exactly corresponds to my experience. I created a MOOC in November on entrepreneurship. We had 9,200 registered students and 2400 obtained the certification in the end. The satisfaction rate was very high. The reason? Although we kept it simple (no high-tech), we invested a lot in the social dimension, with myself, a TA and two community managers involved day-to-day on the forums and community. We created a very personal touch, having a weekly summary live chat were top students were congratulated, etc. MOOC won’t succeed on the cheap. They will only succeed as a live and collective experience, more like a Grateful Dead concert than like a movie, and that will require significant investment from the faculty, an investment that not all of them will be ready to make.

    I have analyzed my experience from creating a MOOC here:

  • qet

    I appreciate the mention of Grygiel’s arguments in this essay, but to me this Via Meadia piece is too reminiscent of early 20th century Marxists who urged that, as it had been demonstrated where History was going to end up, it was the job of responsible intellectuals to push it towards that conclusion with all the force they could muster; the people they ran down in their push were going to be run down in any event. The suggestion that information technology generally and MOOCs specifically will serve as the crowbar to pry apart the present crate of tenure-dedicated academe so as to liberate the TAs and others trapped inside strikes me as too narrow-minded. The march of technology will certainly change everything–the key term here being “every.” TAs will be swept aside just as tenured faculty will be. Cost reductions will be captured not by consumers but by entrepreneurs. MOOC “education” will become a service delivered in the same manner as current consumer technology services are delivered: by legions of narrowly-trained, low-paid cubicle farm dwellers, probably sited in India. In short–MOOCS will lower costs at first but as the present education establishment is driven under their prices will go up and the increases diverted to executive bonuses. And what will the consumer receive in return? Nothing that we presently recognize as education. Maybe that will be a good thing, but I doubt it. As a system designed to train wage workers to tend the machines of future industry the MOOC system will undoubtedly be a huge success as measured by economic indicators.
    On a personal note: this is one matter where I hope Via Meadia will NOT practice what it preaches (and I doubt Prof. Mead would be willing to trade in his own education for a MOOC replacement). My daughter has been accepted into Bard; whether she will attend is undecided at the moment. If she does attend Bard, I fully expect her to receive an education within the more traditional parameters, and not dessicated MOOC substitutes.

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