Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Waiting for the Penny to Drop on MOOCs

In "MOOCs vended learning" (Higher Education section, The Australian newspaper, 21 Aug 2013), e-learning innovator Gilly Salmon uses vending machines as an analogy for Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs). Like vending machines, MOOCs provide a prepackaged low cost convenient product (in this case education). She points out that it is not clear if the small samples of education offered with MOOCs will induce students to sign up for a full program.

I don't agree with Salmon's assertion that that MOOCs are a "disrupter to the 1000-year history of university education". It is the e-learning techniques which Salmon helped pioneer which is causing that disruption. MOOCs are just a re-packaging of those techniques. Many of the issues around mass higher education were debated and systematized by the UK Open University, 40 years ago.

The current fuss over MOOCs reminds me of the DOT.COM bubble of the turn of the last century. People from the IT industry and business would rush up and breathlessly ask if I has seen this new technology called "The Web", just invented by a company in the USA. I would try to patiently explain the web was from a European physics lab, invented by an Englishman, and I had been producing web pages since 1994. The person would usually not hear what I was saying and rush off to tell someone else about this new invention the web, from the USA. Most DOT.COM companies went out of business when the bubble burst and the same is likely to happen with MOOCs. Hopefully most of the failures will be private companies with risk capital, but some may be public universities.

To extend Salmon's vending machine analogy, we should wait for the penny to drop and it is realized that MOOCs are not a miracle answer to education.

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