Will MOOCs kill universities?
Forbes carries an expansive piece on the implications of MOOCs and asks “Is Coursera the Beginning of the End for Traditional Higher Education?“.
Could high-quality MOOCs eventually do to traditional colleges and universities what Craigslist has done to classified advertising in newspapers and what Wikipedia has done to encyclopedias? In other words, could Coursera and its ilk replace a $250,000 college degree and decimate the world of brick-and-mortar colleges and universities?
A previous post highlighted many of the issues and challenges associated with MOOCs. In summary, some of problems with these developments include:
- There is no proper academic quality assurance: by and large anyone can offer any course they want without any need for approval.
- Self-selection: courses are offered by self-selecting academics and followed by self-selecting students.
- There isn’t any meaningful or quality assured assessment.
- Non-accreditation: completion will get you an attendance certificate or a virtual badge rather than credit or a real qualification.
Of course this Forbes piece is just the most extreme example of the overblown hype surrounding MOOCs. As suggested in the earlier piece on these developments, MOOCs have more in common with the growth in adult education and the expansion of Mechanics’ Institutes in the late 19th Century. Unlike classified ads in newspapers and encyclopaedias, universities are built on more enduring foundations. Yes there will be challenges from the new online provision but the idea that Coursera and the like will kill off universities is just absurd. And all that content has to come from somewhere.
The most entertaining response to this kind of piece I have seen is over at the Easily Distracted blog. Under the headline “Listen up you primitive screwheads” we find the following spot on observatopn:
Again, pundits, let’s talk. MOOCs are damn interesting, you betcha, but seriously, if you think they’re about to solve the labor-intensivity of higher education tomorrow with no losses or costs in quality, you have a lot of learning to do. Not just about the costs and budgets of higher education today, but about the history of distance learning. Right now you guys sound like the same packs of enthusiastic dunderheads who thought that public-access television, national radio networks, or correspondence courses were going to make conventional universities obsolete via technological magic. And hey, if you’re that keen on the digital, skip the drinks, I’m happy to educate you via email.
I’m looking forward to when the fuss dies down a little and we can assess more soberly the contribution that MOOCs might make to higher education more generally. In the meantime I guess we’ll just have to put up with this kind of ‘is this the end for universities?’ silliness.