Are MOOCs Really Reinventing Universities?

WHITHER THE MOOC? "For whom are we reinventing college?" asks Scott Carlson and Goldie Blumenstyk in the Chronicle of Higher Education. They note:

The pundits and disrupters, many of whom enjoyed liberal-arts educations at elite colleges, herald a revolution in higher education that is not for people like them or their children, but for others: less-wealthy, less-prepared students who are increasingly cut off from the dream of a traditional college education.

We don't agree 100% with the class dichotomy implications, but the piece makes an interesting point. In terms of teaching the actual content, MOOCs may not be really revolutionary (as so many like to claim). But they certainly are tackling immediate higher-ed issues like accreditation and certification. As a result, the authors argue, higher education may be split into a two-tier system: a "traditional" one with the on-campus experience (and shenanigans), and one that resembles more a pipeline to high-demand skills and jobs. The irony, they note, is that the lower-income students to whom MOOCs are targeted to may be the ones most in need of the on-campus experience and face-to-face interaction with teachers and peers.

Along a similar vein, Doug Guthrie, dean of the George Washington University School of Business, argues that MOOCs like "Coursera and its devotees have it wrong. The Coursera model doesn't create a learning community; it creates a crowd." Why should we be so awed and celebrate "massification" in the age of the Internet, he asks, when the real promise of edtech lies in personalization and interactivity at the individual level?

We don't think these two aspects are incompatible opposites. The brains behind Udacity and others would be short-sighted to see "massification" as simply the end goal. From what we've seen, some startups working on personalization tools and learning communities are actively looking to partner with MOOCs; take StudyRoom, for instance, which is working to build more intimate online learning communities and has piloted with courses offered through edX and Coursera.

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