MOOCs and the future of education as we know it

My introduction to this issue came several months ago when my husband, who works in higher education, passed on to me a video he had seen, called EPIC 2020. This very provocative video discusses the rapid progress of open education systems and forecasts the end of higher education as we know within the next ten years. (I recommend checking out the video here if you haven’t seen it.) Although I found the video fascinating, I don’t think the time-frame for a complete overhaul of education is realistic or advisable. Although MOOCs and other incarnations of open education show remarkable potential, I for one don’t see them replacing traditional educational institutions, but rather offering a broad spectrum of options for lifelong learning that complement school as we know it.

So if the concept of free open courses is so exciting in terms of universal access to information, why shouldn’t it replace our current educational system? For me, the answer to this question comes down to community. Learning, as in meaningful learning that will be retained, is so much more than soaking up information. It occurs through dialogue, connections with others, and interaction with the material learned. This can happen best (I would argue) in a physical classroom with real people. The best online courses can mimic these human connections by creating a vibrant online community of discussions and meaningful feedback on assignments. Can MOOCs create these communities of learners in a class of 100,000 students from around the world? Perhaps, but I have yet to be convinced.

So, no, I do not get excited about a future in which colleges and universities fade into obscurity while MOOCs take over education. HOWEVER, I believe that MOOCs have enormous potential as an alternative or complement to our higher education system. In certain fields, MOOCS may be an ideal way to learn. For students who cannot afford (or do not choose to invest in) a traditional university degree, MOOCs may be an ideal way to learn. For life-long, self-directed professional development, MOOCs may be an ideal way to learn. To sum up, when I finish my library degree at Syracuse, I very well may use MOOCs as an avenue to continue my learning. But do I think that MOOCs could replace all that my Syracuse program has offered in terms of building community, connections with professors, and meaningful feedback on my work? No, no, and no.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “MOOCs and the future of education as we know it

  1. Hear, hear, Milly! MOOCs, the next thing that will be As Big As The Internet. I am just as skeptical as you on that count, and I agree about the role of MOOCs as a complement to formal education. I do think that MOOCs can be more of a game-changer globally, especially in areas where there is simply no access to higher ed and the bulk of the population couldn’t afford it anyway.

  2. Lucy, great point about the role of MOOCs worldwide and for those without access to higher ed. I know I approach this from a privileged background. For me, a liberal arts education on a small campus was transformative, but I know that’s not a viable option for everyone.

  3. Caleb Heslop

    The video you posted was thought provoking. I showed it to two of my friends just yesterday. They thought it to be interesting. I am not sure MOOCs will ever fully replace the present educational system we have now. There is a reason why you desire a teacher to be infront of you, why students just don’t learn from books or videos presently. Teachers are able to assess your personal struggles and fill in the conceptual gaps that are present. There is no way for the videos students are watching to do this. I will say that MOOCs does open the door for students to determine their interests in a nonthreatening way. The fear of failure based on grades demotivates students frequently. I don’t think we have to fear the complete loss of our schools and universities.

  4. Marilyn Arnone

    Milly, you really have done a superb job of capturing what I hope will be the spirit of the Open Ed movement in the future, and particularly the use of MOOCs. You have provided solid rationale for why they should not replace the current system but rather enhance it. Now, if we could only figure out how to get the high price of education down, we could have it all.

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