Have you noticed that I’m sick of writing about MOOCs? It’s not the subject itself that bothers me. It’s simply the fact that I think I’ve read more hype than any one human being can digest and I don’t feel like digesting anymore. For example, other than the fact that the author acknowledges that he’s in the minority now, there’s absolutely no point in this article that hasn’t been written better and more clearly by some other member of the MOOC Messiah Squad over a year ago now. Yet students still aren’t paying to take MOOCs, MOOC providers still have no business model and even college presidents hate MOOCs now.
So why link to that article at all? There’s one point there that’s bigger than MOOCs and well worth my time to address:
Those in the anti-MOOC camp who are opposed to this model should provide well-reasoned arguments based on educational research, not more rhetoric about the imagined dangers of MOOCs as agents of educational imperialism. Mischaracterizing MOOCs as pawns in the service of a neoliberal political agenda distorts the legitimacy of the challenge that MOOCs pose to conventional practices and misrepresents their potential as catalysts of pedagogical innovation. By deflecting attention away from a serious discussion of their own agenda’s merits, those who frame MOOCs in terms of socioeconomic class warfare are not serving their own cause well. Neither smug self-confidence nor playing the victim card will stave off a research agenda that is hot on the trail of understanding the conditions that more effectively enable learning.
Research? Knock yourself out. But don’t you think we should define what we mean by success before we undertake a MOOC research agenda? Believe it or not, I’ve actually seen a great deal of work on what’s being done in the emerging field of “MOOC Studies.” Some of it is incredibly interesting. Some of it is incredibly disturbing. But here’s the thing that’s almost always ignored in my experience: What constitutes learning is going to be different in different fields.
If we judged the success of a history MOOC on the basis of multiple choice questions based upon the content of superprofessor lectures, then I bet MOOC students would learn a ton. However, no history professor in their right mind would ever define a successful history education this way. I define history education not as the accumulation of facts, but as promoting critical thinking, improving reading and writing skills and as a process of intellectual socialization based upon close interaction between a student, their peers and the professor. None of these things can be measured in numbers.
The nice Canadian people who pioneered the concept of MOOCs had all of these things in mind when they developed this idea five-odd years ago. The Stanford computer science professors who are trying to become rich off that idea only cared about these concepts as an afterthought if they ever cared about them at all. How do I know this? Because if they did, they would have designed their MOOCs in such a way in order to promote higher order learning rather than to promote their own financial interest. That’s why their MOOCs will (eventually) become a speed bump on the road to something else.
Yes, even I agree that MOOCs will evolve into something else. Perhaps they’ll turn into something useful, or perhaps they’ll turn into something even less useful than they are now. Therefore, instead of writing about the same old arguments from the “Year of the MOOC,” from now on I want to write about how to turn cutting edge edtech innovations into something that will actually help me do my job better.
Let the solutionists talk to themselves. People who are stuck in last year no longer deserve anyone’s attention.