“We have this strong belief that you can only learn when you do something yourself and that you can’t really learn by watching somebody else talking at you.”
– Sebastian Thrun of Udacity, interviewed in Forbes, December 9, 2013.
He’s right, you know. Long-lasting, hard-thinking, critical reasoning-infused higher education is a lot of work and hard to do. Why then do each of the major MOOC providers’ platforms feature talking heads lecturing? Do they think they can somehow change the way that learning works if they do things their way frequently enough? This, I would argue, is the MOOC-age daydream: Automated learning can somehow become better than learning from another human being if we study it enough. I have news for you folks: It won’t because it can’t.
Much to their credit, a lot of superprofessors understand the limitations of their new medium. As Duke’s Dan Ariely explained to the PBS NewsHour:
Every week, students would pose some questions and I would go online and try to answer some of those, but it’s not the same.
Even some administrators now realize the contradiction of quality at the heart of any Massive Open Online Course. This, unbelievably enough, is the Chancellor of the California State University system, Timothy White:
White went further, calling a recent San Jose State experiment with the online startup Udacity — in which fewer than half of the students passed online courses — a failure.
“For those who say, ‘Well, Tim, you’ll save a lot of money if … you do more things online,’ that’s not correct,” he said.
That’s almost enough for me to forgive him for his 2011 appearance on “Undercover Boss” (which I called “appalling” at that time).
So why then are we still talking about MOOCs after all this time? Probably because money talks – or to put it another way, the predators need to find prey. Here’s my last new link for a post that’s turned out to be a gigantic link dump for everything I read since I started grading my final exams in the middle of last week, from Wired Campus this morning:
edX has created “a revenue-generating solutions division,” according to one slide. The organization has begun developing a range of fee-based services for different kinds of clients—not just colleges, but also government agencies and private companies. Those services include hosting and providing technical support for institutions that use edX’s open-source platform, OpenEdX.
How much revenue can that division generate for a product that can’t provide the same quality interactive instruction that a living, breathing professor can? Not much, as long as living, breathing professors are still a viable option for most students. Therefore, expect MOOC providers to just keep on freakin’ out until the money runs out (which might be rather soon).
Hopefully, the living breathing professors of the world can outlast them.